Ice plays havoc with city’s efforts to slow down erosion

River fishwalks take a beating

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2006

Some rivers are simply ungrateful.

Try as they might to protect the riverbank from being stomped on by thousands of salmon fishers every year, city officials just don’t get any respect when Jack Frost comes calling.

This year, hundreds and hundreds of feet of elevated, aluminum walkways and river-access stairs have been demolished by Kenai River ice.

“At Rotary (Park) and Swiftwater (Campground) the damage has been huge,” said Andrew Carmichael, Soldotna Parks and Recreation director.

Ice damming and floes are striking in areas they haven’t struck before, Carmichael said.

“About 250 feet of walkway at Rotary has folded back on itself,” he said. “Right now it’s all engulfed in ice.”

One set of metal stairs leading into the river at Swiftwater has been bent nearly into the shape of a spiral stairway.

“That will be $9,000 to replace it,” he said.

In many places, the river ice has stacked up between five and eight feet above the normal high-water mark of the river. Although city workers can see much damaged metal sticking up out of the ice, they do not know exactly what is going on below.

During the past two summers, Parks and Recreation employees have been using different techniques in building elevated walkways and stairways along the banks at the former Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities property down river from Soldotna Creek Park.

“Rotary’s the oldest,” said Carmichael of the walkway that was installed in the mid-1990s. “Since then, we’ve done things differently.”

Besides building the walkways higher above the water level, stairs have been built with hinges so they can be raised up out of the water following fishing season.

Root wads also were placed in the water to protect the bank, and Carmichael said that has held back the ice this winter.

Even so, ice has reached to within eight or nine inches of the raised stairways, which are eight feet above water level.

When new fishing walkways are built for Rotary and Swiftwater following this winter’s destruction, Carmichael said the new technologies will be employed.

“We’ll have more stairs into the water and less walkways,” he said.

Carmichael said no matter what materials are used, Mother Nature seems to find a way to thwart his department’s efforts.

“Last year, we replaced some eight-inch I-beams that were bent by the ice,” he said.

Some stout walkways built at Swiftwater by welders from ConocoPhillips, which were supposed to be strong enough for the forces of Cook Inlet, took a beating, Carmichael said.

He said some chunks of ice sitting on walkways right now are as big as a large conference room meeting table. Some ice is 10 feet thick, he said.

Carmichael advised private riverfront landowners to pull their docks out of the river, if they can get to them through the ice.

If not, he suggests tying them to anchor points on shore, so when ice begins to thaw during breakup, they won’t float down river.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek

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