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No Bluffing

Workshop addresses erosion issues

Posted: Monday, March 22, 2004

When in Homer, do as the Romans do.

That was one of the messages during the two-day erosion workshop held in Homer last week at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors Center.

Several of the dozen presenters representing researchers, educators and environmental engineers from federal, state and local agencies referenced the Roman's precedent-setting way of protecting Italy's shoreline from centuries of erosion.

In a way, Homer is like Rome, they said. On the Kenai Peninsula, where residents throughout the region are concerned about a disappearing shoreline, Homer was the first city to take action as a community in the form of a sea wall instead of on an individual basis.

It was albeit not overwhelmingly successful another similarity to the Romans who developed as many good techniques as they did bad ones but a step in the right direction, presenters said.

"You've got to think what you want your coast to look like. What I ask is do you want to leave it up to the individual home owner?" said Owen Mason, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, who spoke about the human influence on erosion rates and amounts.

In Alaska, where no statewide initiative mandates communities to approach erosion with one method or process, an aerial tour of the Kenai Peninsula's shoreline reveals a case study of the varied erosion control techniques.

"You have all the folk methods and you know, some of them are better than others," Mason said. "If the folk remedies are allowed to develop, there's no telling what the coastline could look like in 20, 30 years."

The speakers at the workshop were essentially preaching to the choir, particularly in the morning sessions on the science of coastal erosion. The event was open to the public Wednesday.

Thursday, however, was more focused on fostering dialogue among the professionals who could share triumphs and failures, suggesting plans of attack for the peninsula.

"We're at a crux with some of the areas of our coastline," said Dan Bevington, the planner and coastal district coordinator with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Coastal Management Program. "We're not so rural anymore."

It's important, everyone agreed, to address the issue in a rational, data driven way, although it is easy to understand why people react to the potential loss of their property in an emotional manner, Mason said.

For example, the village on Shismaref Island has faced continuing erosion for nearly 20 years. After the latest flooding during a November 2003 storm, the village is considering relocating.

"They're doing it without data. That's the cautionary take here, to me," Mason said. "In some ways we're in a territory that hasn't been explored yet. Everybody is afraid of the sea and they want somebody to do something about it."

A portion of the workshop was an answer to that desire people's need to curb the potential threat of the sea without harming the natural processes that must take place.

The Coastal Management Pro-gram struggles to enforce proper erosion control on the peninsula, Bevington said.

"It's a very important problem that we're not able to address with our current policy structure," he said.

There is a lot that can be done, as other states such as Washington have found.

"We've got a fairly well developed, long we've been working on it for a long time anyway system for maintaining our shoreline in the state of Washington," said Peter Skowlund, with the Washing-ton Department of Ecology.

Washington was the first state to comply with federal shoreline regulations because it independently passed its own set of standards after a voter initiative in 1971, the same year as the national legislation.

The code, which is complied with in all 39 counties and 200 cities, was revised last year.

"We believe it represents sound public policy," Skowlund said. "We wouldn't be where we are today if we weren't in partnership with local government."

Washington's regulations don't trade development for ecology, they attempt to make the two coexist, he said.

"Development happens," Skow-lund said. "It continues to happen. Development needs to be (regulated) along our shorelines, along our coasts."

Federal money also is available to fund research and develop mandates to prevent erosion and protect shoreline property.

"It's a matter of the local communities and state agencies coming together and having a strong voice, going to their congressional delegates, federal agencies and saying we need help," said Guy Gelfen-baum, with the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington.

Alaska has an erosion management policy embedded in its federal floodplain regulations, as does the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The city of Homer adopted its own flood policy in 2003.

Kenai and Soldotna have not, said Christy Miller, state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program with Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development.

There are regulations in place, she said, it is just a matter of enforcing them.

"Don't be shy. Go forth and regulate. Where you may have a problem is if you do nothing at all. If we continue to encourage at-risk development and ignore the impact can we accept the consequences and are you willing to pay for it?"

It's easy to underestimate the impact humans have on shorelines, Mason said.

"One person obviously isn't a big thing. But, if you have a hundred people walking from the same pull-off ," he said. "There's a lot of things you're doing inadvertently. Think about all the things you're doing and multiply it by 100 to understand. Everyone chooses a place to live, then expects to be compensated if something happens."

Orson Smith, a University of Alaska Anchorage civil engineering professor who discussed remediation and mitigation techniques, cautioned audience members to learn from the mistakes of others. No one wants to be the first group to try something, he said, acknowledging Homer did just that in funding a neighborhood seawall.

The one-mile long structure was proposed in 2000, approved by the city council in 2001 and built in the following year.

Costs to the engineer, Anchor-age-based Phukan Engineering, have gone beyond the roughly $1 million bankrolled by the city for construction fees.

Since completion, the wall has had to be substantially repaired twice after winter storms tore away parts of the fiberglass and wood structure.

Property owners will be assessed their portion of the costs, roughly $84,000 each, in September unless they continue to pursue litigation for what they believe is a failed effort.

"Let's face it, Homer could be on the way to another problem if folk methods are allowed to (continue)," Mason said.

"Developing coasts are not the canaries of global change but are the epitaphs of failed engineering."

Carly Bossert is a reporter for the Homer News.

Photo by Hal Spence Dr. Dick Reger, retired from the Alaska Geographical and Geophysical Survey, explains the geomorphology of the bluffs above the mouth of the Kenai River near the Kenai Senior Citizens Center.

No bluffing Workshop addresses erosion issues

BY CARLY BOSSERT

Morris News Service-Alaska

When in Homer, do as the Romans do.

That was one of the messages during the two-day erosion workshop held in Homer last week at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors Center.

Several of the dozen presenters representing researchers, educators and environmental engineers from federal, state and local agencies referenced the Roman's precedent-setting way of protecting Italy's shoreline from centuries of erosion.

In a way, Homer is like Rome, they said. On the Kenai Peninsula, where residents throughout the region are concerned about a disappearing shoreline, Homer was the first city to take action as a community in the form of a sea wall instead of on an individual basis.

It was albeit not overwhelmingly successful another similarity to the Romans who developed as many good techniques as they did bad ones but a step in the right direction, presenters said.

"You've got to think what you want your coast to look like. What I ask is do you want to leave it up to the individual home owner?" said Owen Mason, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, who spoke about the human influence on erosion rates and amounts.

In Alaska, where no statewide initiative mandates communities to approach erosion with one method or process, an aerial tour of the Kenai Peninsula's shoreline reveals a case study of the varied erosion control techniques.

"You have all the folk methods and you know, some of them are better than others," Mason said. "If the folk remedies are allowed to develop, there's no telling what the coastline could look like in 20, 30 years."

The speakers at the workshop were essentially preaching to the choir, particularly in the morning sessions on the science of coastal erosion. The event was open to the public Wednesday.

Thursday, however, was more focused on fostering dialogue among the professionals who could share triumphs and failures, suggesting plans of attack for the peninsula.

"We're at a crux with some of the areas of our coastline," said Dan Bevington, the planner and coastal district coordinator with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Coastal Management Program. "We're not so rural anymore."

It's important, everyone agreed, to address the issue in a rational, data driven way, although it is easy to understand why people react to the potential loss of their property in an emotional manner, Mason said.

For example, the village on Shismaref Island has faced continuing erosion for nearly 20 years. After the latest flooding during a November 2003 storm, the village is considering relocating.

"They're doing it without data. That's the cautionary take here, to me," Mason said. "In some ways we're in a territory that hasn't been explored yet. Everybody is afraid of the sea and they want somebody to do something about it."

A portion of the workshop was an answer to that desire people's need to curb the potential threat of the sea without harming the natural processes that must take place.

The Coastal Management Pro-gram struggles to enforce proper erosion control on the peninsula, Bevington said.

"It's a very important problem that we're not able to address with our current policy structure," he said.

There is a lot that can be done, as other states such as Washington have found.

"We've got a fairly well developed, long we've been working on it for a long time anyway system for maintaining our shoreline in the state of Washington," said Peter Skowlund, with the Washing-ton Department of Ecology.

Washington was the first state to comply with federal shoreline regulations because it independently passed its own set of standards after a voter initiative in 1971, the same year as the national legislation.

The code, which is complied with in all 39 counties and 200 cities, was revised last year.

"We believe it represents sound public policy," Skowlund said. "We wouldn't be where we are today if we weren't in partnership with local government."

Washington's regulations don't trade development for ecology, they attempt to make the two coexist, he said.

"Development happens," Skow-lund said. "It continues to happen. Development needs to be (regulated) along our shorelines, along our coasts."

Federal money also is available to fund research and develop mandates to prevent erosion and protect shoreline property.

"It's a matter of the local communities and state agencies coming together and having a strong voice, going to their congressional delegates, federal agencies and saying we need help," said Guy Gelfen-baum, with the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington.

Alaska has an erosion management policy embedded in its federal floodplain regulations, as does the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The city of Homer adopted its own flood policy in 2003.

Kenai and Soldotna have not, said Christy Miller, state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program with Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development.

There are regulations in place, she said, it is just a matter of enforcing them.

"Don't be shy. Go forth and regulate. Where you may have a problem is if you do nothing at all. If we continue to encourage at-risk development and ignore the impact can we accept the consequences and are you willing to pay for it?"

It's easy to underestimate the impact humans have on shorelines, Mason said.

"One person obviously isn't a big thing. But, if you have a hundred people walking from the same pull-off ," he said. "There's a lot of things you're doing inadvertently. Think about all the things you're doing and multiply it by 100 to understand. Everyone chooses a place to live, then expects to be compensated if something happens."

Orson Smith, a University of Alaska Anchorage civil engineering professor who discussed remediation and mitigation techniques, cautioned audience members to learn from the mistakes of others. No one wants to be the first group to try something, he said, acknowledging Homer did just that in funding a neighborhood seawall.

The one-mile long structure was proposed in 2000, approved by the city council in 2001 and built in the following year.

Costs to the engineer, Anchor-age-based Phukan Engineering, have gone beyond the roughly $1 million bankrolled by the city for construction fees.

Since completion, the wall has had to be substantially repaired twice after winter storms tore away parts of the fiberglass and wood structure.

Property owners will be assessed their portion of the costs, roughly $84,000 each, in September unless they continue to pursue litigation for what they believe is a failed effort.

"Let's face it, Homer could be on the way to another problem if folk methods are allowed to (continue)," Mason said.

"Developing coasts are not the canaries of global change but are the epitaphs of failed engineering."

Carly Bossert is a reporter for the Homer News.



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