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Better ways to build

Improving technology keeps river structures safer from ice

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2007

 

  Laborers work to replace Billie Shackleton's boardwalk and dock shortly after breakup in April. The permanent wood structure was destroyed by flooding earlier in the winter. "It was very big, very heavy and built right in (to the bank)," she said. "The icebergs made it into splinters." Like many property owners, she opted for a smaller, lighter, removable aluminum model in the repair process. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Laborers work to replace Billie Shackleton's boardwalk and dock shortly after breakup in April. The permanent wood structure was destroyed by flooding earlier in the winter. "It was very big, very heavy and built right in (to the bank)," she said. "The icebergs made it into splinters." Like many property owners, she opted for a smaller, lighter, removable aluminum model in the repair process.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of stories examining the lasting impact of Kenai River flooding and ice jams this winter. Sunday's story will look at the effects of flooding on fishing.

Better ways to buildOne of the best things about mishaps is they afford people the opportunity to learn, and Kenai River residents learned a lot as a result of flooding and ice damage this winter.

"Like anything, we learn from our mistakes and get smarter each time we do something," said John Mohorcich, manager of the Kenai River Center.

Largely gone are the days of docks and stairwells made by driving permanent pilings into the shoreline where they would be susceptible to floods and other natural disasters, he said.

"Prior to the Kenai River Center opening in 1996, the infrastructure along the river was mostly wood because — while not everyone knew how to weld — almost everyone had a saw and wood, so they would build structures of wood. Or if it was metal, it was whatever was lying around the homestead," Mohorcich said.

But there still are structures that rely on wood, such as the stairway to the water behind the Gone Fishin' Lodge off of Funny River Road.

Dick Bowen, one of the owners, said the winter's ice jam didn't damage much on his property, but only because he had learned from years past when his property did sustain damage.

"The year before, we lost stairs because they were permanently attached, so for this past year we had steps that go in the water that we can just pull off seasonally," he said.

In more modern times materials have changed considerably.

"Most of what I build is steel," said Roy Bird, owner of Slash E Construction, a company that has built steel walkways for use along the river for the past 10 years.

Bird said he has seen an increase in work orders since the winter.

"I'd say 90 percent of the work I've been doing is repair work. It's mostly been cutting off bent posts and pieces and replacing them, and replacing grating that was lost," he said.

Over the years the development of new materials and technologies for river structures have emerged.

"Now people are building larger structures, that — rather than piling driven in — rely on legs that rest on the bottom, and a lot of this new stuff is stable, lightweight and can be moved every year by the landowner without having to hire a contractor," Mohorcich said.

Many of these new structures are made of aluminum, plastic and fiberglass. Some believe they are superior to wood in their function and durability, but the come with a higher price.

"The newer structures are more expensive. Typically, for an aluminum, elevated, light-penetrating walkway about four feet wide, the cost — if the homeowner called a contractor — would be about $150 per foot. Plastics and fiberglasses will increase the cost, sometimes by as much as 25 percent in the case of the glasses," Mohorcich said.

The high price, combined with the recent memory of 950 river parcels with structures affected by the winter's ice and flooding, has many people wanting to protect their investment this winter and in the future.

"These structures are expensive. No one wants to see them damaged or lost," Mohorcich said.

To that end, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources introduced specific dates this year for when river structures should be seasonally removed, according to Pam Russell, natural resource specialist at the Kenai River Center.

"This year, structures will need to be removed by October 31, and they can't be put back in until April 15," she said.

"In the permitting process, we're also encouraging structures be constructed so as to be easily removed," Mohorcich said.

There is no cookie-cutter approach for doing this since each property is unique, but there are some similar construction ideas emerging.

"We're seeing more ingenuity. We're seeing more hinging-back and cranking-up designs," he said, referring to a pulley and hand-crank system for raising structures that is similar to that used by commercial fisherman to get their skiffs out of the water and onto a trailer.Improving technology keeps river structures safer from ice



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