An apartment building, since moved, sits at the edge of the bluff above the Kenai River in 2002. City of Kenai officials hope a multi-million dollar project can stop the river from claiming more land.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
That the city of Kenai is slowly disappearing into Cook Inlet one grain of sand at a time, three feet per year is perhaps the biggest issue currently facing the city.
On Wednesday, an idea to protect the eroding Kenai bluff again came before the Kenai City Council in the form of Patrick Fitzgerald, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, who said a recent study to address environmental impacts of a potential project is nearly complete.
"We think (the report) will significantly address all these agency concerns," Fitzgerald said.
Talk of a project aimed at permanently shoring up the 50 to 70 feet high bluffs overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River is nothing new to the city. The city ideally would like to build a sea wall incorporating a coastal trail with an armor rock-buffeted bluff face to stop the erosion.
Such a project has been on the lips of council members for more than a decade with little headway having been made. However, the Corps of Engineers' report is a step toward addressing environmental concerns that have been raised in regard to the proposed project.
Fitzpatrick said he worked closely with agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, taking baseline environmental data and analyzing which species might be impacted by any bluff program.
He said the report will be finalized soon. However, he cautioned that the $500,000 federal study is not a full environmental report and said the city needs to secure more funding from Congress for a complete report to be made.
"We still need the money," he said.
However, the city can use the report being finalized as a way to bolster its claim that federal funds should go to stabilizing the bluff.
Fitzpatrick cautioned that getting funding for such a project which has been estimated in the past to come with a price tag of $10 million or more won't be easy because Congress is not funding many new Corps endeavors.
"It's hard for us to get construction funds for new projects," he said.
He urged the council to stay in close contact with the Alaska congressional delegation.
"I would talk to Senator (Ted) Stevens," he said.
Following Fitzpatrick's remarks, council member Joe Moore thanked him for coming and stressed how important shoring up the bluff is to the city's interests.
"This is, for me, the single biggest project we have in the city," Moore said.
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter agreed. She said the city simply has no choice but to continue trying to secure funding for the project.
"Our bluff in our community is starting to leave us," she said.
Fitzpatrick said he sympathized with the council's concerns and said he, too, is hopeful a project will some day become a reality.
"It's frustrating for us to come down and see the continuing erosion of the bluff," he said.
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