Bluff idea taking root

Hydroseeding helping hold back erosion

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005

 

  The Lofstedt residence sits on eroding bluff above the Kenai River's mouth in Kenai. Photo by M. Scott Moon

The Lofstedt residence sits on eroding bluff above the Kenai River's mouth in Kenai.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

A simple and time-tested method for controlling loose soil may help curb Kenai's ongoing bluff erosion problem.

For more than a decade now, the city has tried to find a way to keep the wind and sea from eating away at Old Town Kenai, the city's historic and scenic heart which sits on high bluffs overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River. The area attracts tourists and homeowners alike with its unrivaled views of Cook Inlet and the Chigmit Mountain Range.

"I just love living here," said Diana Lofstedt, who owns a home and rental cabins on the bluff. "The view is incredible."

In addition to the scenery, Old Town is home to two Russian Orthodox churches and dozens of historic structures from Kenai's early American settlement.

Property owners and city officials would like to see a revitalized waterfront district in the area. But Old Town has a big problem. Kenai's bluffs are slowly crumbling.

The bluffs stretch from the docks at the mouth of the Kenai River to Nikiski and beyond. The Old Town portion of the bluff the city is concerned with ends at about Eric Hansen Scout Park. Persistent winds and high tides have nibbled away at the sandy, exposed soil since before the town site was first settled by Athabascan Natives.

City estimates peg the inland march of the bluff in some areas at a foot or more per year.

A plan to use federal funds to build a multimillion dollar coastal trail to shore up the bluff is still in the planning phases, with only a couple hundred thousand trickling into studies and plans.

Most agree that until something is done, the only thing certain along the bluff is that Mother Nature will continue to pick at the city's oldest neighborhood, one grain at a time.

But some residents along the bluff believe the answer — for now, at least — to the bluff's inland march is as obvious as it is effective: Plant grass.

Last year, around a dozen homeowners along the bluff had their bluffs hydroseeded by a local landscaper. Hydroseeding is a process by which a mixture of grass seed, fertilizer and water is sprayed from a large truck. The seed grows quickly and uniformly even on the bluffs, where most grass seed can't take because of the steep banks and winds.

Diane Lofstedt said the hydroseeding she had done last year at her property has made a definite impact on the amount of sand she sees flying off the bluff.

"What I noticed most was is there's hardly any sand," she said.

Next door to her home is property that wasn't seeded. Where Lofstedt's bluff is covered in grass and other plants, the exposed bluff remains windswept and sandy.

Lofstedt is a supporter of a coastal trail and bluff stabilization project. But for now, she said the grass is a great way to curb erosion.

"I'm glad I did it," she said.

Landscaper Tom Moore of Moore's Landscaping said his company has hydroseeded a couple bluffs and says the process is ideal for keeping erosion at a minimum.

"It works really well," Moore said.

Moore said he was down on the Kenai beach recently and noticed how well the grass is coming in again this year.

"I went there to fly kites with my kids and I couldn't believe how good it looked," he said.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said she believes hydroseeding of the bluffs could indeed provide a short-term solution to the city's erosion problem. Since the price of hydroseeding is relatively low — cost depends on size, but most lots can be done for around $1,000 — Porter said the technique could be employed at city lots along the bluff.

"Short term, I think it's a great idea," she said.

Porter said that the city still is pushing hard for a long-term fix.

Although planting grass appears to be a good solution for the time being, it does have its drawbacks. Despite everyone's best efforts, it's nearly impossible to keep the tides from undercutting the bluffs at the bottom, which means chunks of the bluff face still slough off.

"It's the underlying cutting that's the problem," Porter said.

Diana Lofstedt agreed. She said the grass can do nothing to keep the tides from cutting into the bluff where it hits the beach.

"A lot of the erosion is from the digging of the tide where it cuts into the bottom," she said.

However, simply keeping most of the bluff intact seems to be helping. In hydroseeded areas, grasses and even flowers have taken hold where only last year was a sand-swept bluff. For property owners used to watching their property fall slowly into the sea, that's some of the best news to hit the bluff in years.

"Even if it only buys me a little time, it's worth it," Lofstedt said.



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