Reminder: Property owners need to pull up structures

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2007

There isn't any ice on the Kenai River yet, but riverfront property owners should already have removed their floating docks, as well stairways and walkways that extend into or over the water.

"They were all supposed to be out by the end of last month," said Jan Yaeger, education coordinator at the Kenai River Center.

She said permits issued by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Habitat and Management Permitting and Alaska State Parks stipulate that these structures are to have been removed by Oct. 31. As such, anyone that still hasn't removed them is in violation of their permits and is risking potential damage to these structures.

"The primary purpose is to avoid ice damage," Yaeger said, adding one need only look to last year to see what can happen when these structures are left in the water or within flood levels.

Late last winter, the Skilak Glacier-dammed lake breached, releasing a four-foot high surge of water into the river. The surge dislodged river ice and sent ice rafts some several feet thick and weighing several tons downriver where they jammed up and caused carnage as they ground along the riverbanks and twisted and tore apart any structures along the river's edge. Estimates of known damage to public and private property along the affected stretch of river put the cost at between $5 million and $6 million.

"There was stuff that was 25 feet back that people had problems with last year," said Pam Russell, Natural Resources Specialist with state parks.

Russell said there is no enforcement of the permit rules for taking structures out by Oct. 31, but if anything happens to these people's property, or other's people's property as a result of their negligence, they will be financially responsible.

"If they don't take it out and something happens, they're not eligible for FEMA money, and Parks has the ability to charge them with the cost of clean up, or a portion of it," she said.

These glacier-dammed lakes only release every two to three years, so some may be lulled into thinking they don't need to worry about removing structures this season, but Yeager said, in addition to adhering to the permit agreement, it's also better to err on the side of caution.

"There's no telling what can happen with Mother Nature. The floods in 2002 happened in November and the Snow River Glacier-dammed lake just released, so it's best to play it safe when you can," she said.

In regard to this latter event, Yaeger said riverfront property owners likely won't see the same effects they did last winter because there isn't ice on the Kenai River yet. Also, lake levels on Kenai and Skilak Lakes are low enough to absorb much of the water released from the glacier-dammed lake, so while people will see an unexpected rise on the lower Kenai River at the start of the week, it won't be a significant surge of water.

"It should only be a few inch rise on Monday or Tuesday," Yaeger said.

For anyone interested in learning more on this subject, Larry Rundquist from the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center will be discussing these hidden glacial-dammed lakes and their cycles of flooding and filling, as part of the Kenai River Center's Winter Speaker Series on Tuesday at 7 p.m. For more information, call 260-4882 ext. 238.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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