Boardwalks along the river at Soldotna's Swiftwater Park are crushed by massive ice chunks in mid-February. Gov. Palin signed a disaster declaration Monday in response to the damage.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Gov. Sarah Palin has signed a disaster declaration in response to the severe damage caused last month by ice moving down the Kenai River.
The declaration opens the door to state aid for the city of Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
The governor has asked for a 60-day extension to the deadline for requesting federal disaster assistance in order to allow time for river ice to melt. Only then will officials be able to accurately assess the full extent of the damage and the expense of rebuilding.
The state declaration covers a section of the river between Skilak Lake and River Mile 14, a stretch Gov. Palin saw firsthand from a helicopter in February.
“It was almost exactly one month ago that I had the opportunity to tour the affected areas,” Palin said in a press release Monday. “At that time, I promised that we would do our best to provided relief to publicly-affected areas and make sure that permits are expedited. I am pleased to say that local, state and federal agencies are already working closely with Kenai Peninsula Borough officials to aid the communities in the recovery process.”
Ice jams developing on the river early this year led to a Jan. 25 flood warning by the National Weather Service. Over the next 10 days, ice flowed downriver through Sterling and Soldotna toward Cook Inlet, carving out new banks and scouring away shoreline developments boardwalks, docks, ramps, staircases, and other manmade facilities like so many pickup sticks.
Those facilities are key to Soldotna’s and the borough’s summertime economy as they provide easy and safe access to the river for thousands of visiting anglers each year.
What damage could be seen was significant. But accurate assessment of the scale of the damage was and remains difficult due to lingering ice.
The state declaration said the scope and severity of the disaster were “beyond the timely and effective response and recovery capability of local resources” and that repairs and emergency assistance were required.
The state has requested an early Small Business Administration survey of the disaster zone to assess potential SBA loan assistance for eligible applicants, because many homeowners and businesses may not be eligible for state disaster assistance, the governor said.
The ice jam damage when a glacial dam in the Skilak Lake watershed breached, releasing a four-foot high surge of water into the river, dislodging river ice and sending it coursing downriver. Ice rafts as thick as four feet and weighing tons made short work of infrastructure built along the river over several decades.
Tom Boedeker, city manager of Soldotna, said the latest assessments have estimated the costs at bout $1.45 million, including damages of $672,000 at Soldotna Creek, $452,000 at Rotary Park, and some $323,000 worth of work to be undertaken by July 1 at Swiftwater Park.
Depending on what melting ice reveals, those estimates could change, he said.
According to Scott Walden with the borough’s Office of Emergency Management, current estimates of all known damage to public and private property along the affected stretch of river put the costs at between $5 million and $6 million.
Hal Spence can be reached at email@example.com.
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