Cold, hard facts about ice jams on the Kenai


Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007

It was just about a year ago that many of us were reminded just how powerful ice is.

It took 10 days for ice to flow down the Kenai River through Sterling and Soldotna toward Cook Inlet, as it carved out new banks and scraped away shoreline fixtures.

It's hard to forget the images of crumpled stairways, twisted docks, uprooted trees and massive chunks of ice jammed into the river.

The price tag was just as hard to forget: an estimated $3.5 million in damage.

Although much has been done to repair Rotary Park, Swiftwater Campground, Soldotna Creek Park and Centennial Campground in Soldotna, there is still work to do. Some of the other properties with docks, stairways and fishing platforms are still on the mend, as well.

And now, as we head deeper into another winter, the ugly threat of crushing ice is looming again.

Actually, this process isn't uncommon at all on the Kenai. The Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management's Web site lists ice jam flooding on occurrences dating back to 1969.

The highest water level ever measured at Soldotna occurred in January 1969 when ice jams backed up water to a height of 22.69 feet. Last January it peaked at 20.

By now we should be accustomed to it, but we aren't. We don't always prepare for the unpredictable, but at some point we need to pay attention.

Pulling up docks, walkways and any other fixtures will not only save those who own them frustration and money, but it also saves cities, the borough and even the state some cash. Last year the state stepped in to help fix what got broken, but a little common sense would have made a big difference.

Fortunately the recent years of flooding have kept to the river, but those who live along the river know the possibility exists for that to change. The borough's OEM Web site offers tips to help you be prepared for major flooding created by ice jams. Among them are:

* Know your area's flood risk. If you're unsure, call the OEM (262-4910) or Soldotna's (262-9107) or Kenai's (283-7535) planning and zoning departments.

* Raising your furnace, water heater, and electric panel if they are in areas of your home that may be flooded.

* Assemble a disaster supplies kit containing essential medications; canned food and can opener; at least three gallons of water per person; protective clothing, rainwear, and bedding or sleeping bags; battery-powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries; special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members; and written instructions for how to turn off electricity, gas and water if authorities advise you to do so.

* Know where you need to go if you are required to evacuate, whether it's a friend's home, a shelter or another town.

Hopefully flooding on the Kenai will never be so dangerous that you'll need to use these tips, but having them ready ahead of time may save you the time you need to stay out of danger's way.

In the meantime, keep your eye on the river and your feet dry.

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