Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories examining the lasting impact of Kenai River flooding and ice jams this winter. Friday’s story will look at improvements in the constrcution and installation of riverside structures.
John Mohorcich and Jan Yeager stand on a fishing access stairway below the Kenai River Center that was damaged by flooding on the Kenai River this winter.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
From the looks of things this summer, one might think all of Soldotna is out to build brand new docks and fishing platforms along the Kenai River.
Winter ice pushed down the Kenai River by water escaping from Skilak Lake in January caused millions of dollars in damage to piers, docks, fishwalks and stairways into the river.
With recreational sport fishing being at its economic core, Soldotna received the brunt of the damage to city-owned facilities, estimated at nearly $1 million.
“We’re looking at $800,000 to $1 million (in damage),” said Andrew Carmichael, Parks and Recreation director for the city.
Alaska State Parks lost about $70,000 in fishing walkways, though it will cost more than twice that amount to replace the structures.
At the Kenai River Center, the Kenai Peninsula Borough incurred about $110,000 in damage to handicapped accessible ramps and a fishing platform, and farther downriver, the city of Kenai reported no damage to city-owned facilities.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge originally estimated damage to its two boardwalks at Keystone Drive at up around $1 million, but when the ice finally melted or moved out with spring break-up, refuge managers found the damage to be considerably less.
Government entities that thrive on providing Kenai River fishing access to residents and tourists are scrambling to repair and replace as much of the destroyed structure as possible as the fishing season reaches full steam.
At Soldotna’s Rotary Park, between 500 and 600 feet of boardwalk was dislodged from its substructure, according to Carmichael.
“After the ice was gone, we realized the substructure was still there. We will replace 290 feet,” he said, adding the cost for replacement is approximately $300 per lineal foot.
At Swiftwater Park, Soldotna lost a $10,000 stairway, and 75 feet of fishing platform was destroyed. Four fishing platforms were “tweaked,” Carmichael said.
So far, one boat dock and three fishing platforms have been repaired or replaced at Swiftwater.
All the aluminum pipe railings along the walkways were ripped away and 100 feet of elevated walks were lost.
Ice also took out 623 feet of elevated walkways at Soldotna Creek Park. Carmichael said the city is seeking grant funding to replace the walks with newer design walkways.
“We will be reimbursed at $400 per foot,” he said, citing the cost of the original walks. The city will need to add approximately $300 to $400 per foot for the replacement.
All seven sets of stairs leading from the walkways into the river have been repaired or replaced, but due to a change in the river channel that resulted from the push of ice, one stairway is no longer in service because the bottom step is now four feet from the river bottom.
All of the boardwalk down from the Soldotna Visitors Center was damaged and has been replaced with a newer design steel structure.
Twenty-five sets of stairs were damaged at Centennial Park and all but one have been repaired or replaced.
“We lost 100 feet of handicapped fishing platform,” Carmichael said. Replacement is expected to be complete by July 6.
Originally the city thought all the substructure was lost and damage was estimated to be between $1.3 and $1.6 million, Carmichael said, but after all the ice moved out, the estimate was revised to between $800,000 and $1 million.
He said although Rotary Park is not yet open, “it will be by the time the sockeyes are here.”
State parks area superintendent Jack Sinclair said a considerable amount of fishing walkways at Morgans Landing were damaged.
“About 70 percent were destroyed,” he said, adding that they will not be replaced until next year, after an ice road can be built over the winter to bring in equipment for driving pilings.
While the park lost about $70,000 in walks, replacement is estimated to cost between $120,000 and $170,000.
Damage to state park facilities at Funny River, Isaac Walton and Slikok Creek was not as severe and repairs are being made with in-house staff, according to Sinclair.
Although the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s stairways at the Kenai River Center were designed to be hinged up and out of the river after the summer fishing season, ice this year overflowed the river banks by 12 feet, according to John Mohorcich, center manager.
Of the four stairways, the first upstream stairway had no damage, the second had minor damage that has already been repaired and the other two need complete replacement.
An Americans with Disabilities Act-approved fishing platform at the river’s edge was tweaked, Mohorcich said, adding that all will be repaired or replaced by the first week in July.
“Our area is used primarily by people fishing the second run of reds,” he said.
On the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, one boardwalk at Keystone Drive will be open by Monday and the other will be closed for the remainder of this year, according to Art Tovar, facilities manager.
“The lumber has been removed from the upstream boardwalk to make it safe for the public,” according to Tovar. “I hope they heed the warnings.”
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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