Fixing ice damage a costly process

Federal funds may come to repair municipal structures, but private property owners on their own

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2007

As winter gave way to warmth and breakup, the last of the ice released its grip on the Kenai River, revealing the true extent of the damage wrought by ice and flood.

The costly cleanup and repair of public and private properties is now under way, and residents and municipalities alike are turning to the Kenai River Center for help and advice.

Federal disaster relief funds have not yet been designated, but the center’s manager, John Mohorcich, says there is reason to believe some cash eventually will flow our way, though federal disaster relief is likely to be restricted to use by municipal governments and not available directly to private citizens.

River residents are beginning to make repairs, taking advantage of existing habitat programs offered by the river center and making use of a streamlined permit process for work in and around the river.

The large volume of ice pushed rapidly downriver by water escaping Skilak Lake in late January and much of February caused most of its damage between Moose River at mile 36.5 of the Kenai River and Slikok Creek at river mile 18, a stretch that passes by some 950 separate parcels of land.

“Not everyone had damage,” Mohorcich said. “We have had 285 applications from that stretch applying to do repair- and replace-type projects. They are looking for quick permits. They’ve made the decision to move forward with what they want to put back or fix.” Some of those preparing to make repairs are getting design help through the center, he said.

Another 100 owners have not made application yet, and the center is assuming they are waiting or not going to do repairs at all.

Below river mile 18 flooding, not the ice directly, cause most of the damage, he said.

Different center programs offer different kinds of help, but all require permits for work in or near the river. The new “Flood and Ice Damage” application form has sped up the process, and permitting now takes about two weeks.

“And that’s with coordinating between up to eight different agencies,” Mohorcich said.

The application process is exactly the same for private property owners and governments.

The application, available on the center Web site at www.kenairivercenter.org and at the center on Funny River Road, is straightforward, requiring information about the property, its ownership, location and the nature of the development prior to the ice flood, such as whether parts of it cantilevered over the river or would upon repair.

In many places, the ice left debris from shredded riverside structures littering the river. Assistance is available through Alaska State Parks to those with debris in the river they can’t physically remove themselves.

In addition, residents looking to restore and rehabilitate riverbank property may be eligible for a “cost share” program offered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which may share up to half the cost with property owners.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is offering both a tax credit and a tax exemption program for certain kinds of habitat protection and restoration projects, including such things as docks, walkways, spruce tree revetments and more.

It could be well into July or early August before the federal government decides if it will honor Gov. Sarah Palin’s request for a federal disaster declaration, according to Ron Zuber, an operations specialist with FEMA’s Region 10 office in Bothell, Wash.

Zuber, who was part of a FEMA team who recently toured the damaged stretch of river, said the average time for a decision is three to six weeks. Inspectors found a little over $1 million worth of damage to public facilities they believe should be eligible for federal aide, he said.

“As far as what will be approved and how much exactly, I have no earthly clue,” he said. That is up to officials in Washington, D.C.

Federal aide would have to be used to restore damaged facilities to predisaster conditions, he said. Occasionally, funds are made available through the states for other damage mitigation programs, but whether such funds could or would be made available to private property owners would be up to the state and the rules applied to the funds, he said.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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