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Heavy rains cause Homer mudslides

Flooding throughout borough prompts Navarre to sign local disaster declaration

Posted: October 30, 2013 - 3:57pm
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Traffic moves around a mudslide on East End Road and Bear Creek Drive on Monday before road crews closed it to clean up debris.  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Traffic moves around a mudslide on East End Road and Bear Creek Drive on Monday before road crews closed it to clean up debris.

Mudslides Monday afternoon on East End Road near Bear Creek Drive and Kachemak Drive shut down part of the road, causing traffic jams and forcing drivers to detour on Kachemak Drive. Heavy rains this week throughout the Kenai Peninsula resulted in streets being washed away, roads closed and an increasing number of residences surrounded by water due to recent rains. 

On Tuesday, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mike Navarre signed a local disaster emergency declaration.The declaration specifically notes:

• Flooding in a Kalifornsky Beach subdivision where 30 to 40 people are anticipated to be temporarily displaced due to road closures, flooding and disruption of utilities;

• Flooding along Tall Tree Road and Tall Tree bridge in the Stariski area;

• Flooding along Ester Avenue in Anchor Point;

• Damages to roads connecting Tyonek and Beluga on the west side of Cook Inlet;

• Culvert and road damage in the city of Seward; and

• Damage to the Box Canyon water diversion structure in the Bear Creek area.

These aren’t the only areas impacted, however.

Homer

A 16-foot tall mudslide that roared down Bear Creek about 3 p.m. shut down East End Road until about 10 p.m. Monday. Barrett Moe, manager of Lower Peninsula Power Sports on East End Road near Bear Creek Drive, said security camera tapes showed a 100-foot wide wall of trees and debris coming down the creek behind the store. A narrow canyon uphill on the creek held debris and then let go, Moe said. The debris jammed a culvert on East End Road in front of the store.

“When that wall (of mud) hit it, it just plugged it immediately,” Moe said.

Mudslides also affected East End Road at Mile 3.2 east of the Kachemak Drive intersection and Mile 6.5 near the Kachemak Lynx Golf Course, said Carl High, Kenai district superintendent, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. DOT&PF road crews cleared the Mile 3.2 East End Road mudslide first and then the Bear Creek Drive mudslide. Traffic was able to detour on Kachemak Drive. The Mile 6.2 mudslide was relatively minor, High said.

While the Bear Creek mudslide flooded the East End Road bike and pedestrian path and ditches, boats and four-wheelers in the yard at Lower Peninsula Power Sports had little damage. One boat got some scrapes from logs, and staff were able to get four-wheelers moved, Moe said. 

An October 2002 flood also closed East End Road. A berm behind Lower Peninsula Power Sports built by Arno Construction after the 2002 flood diverted Tuesday’s mudslide from the store, Moe said.

“That’s what saved us this time,” he said of the berm. “You could see the mud level was right at the top of it.”

Concrete headwalls built around culverts after the 2002 flood also made clearing culverts easier, High said. In 2002, the culvert pipes got torn up by mudslides, but this time the culverts held and crews could get them unjammed without damaging the culverts.

Jody Fica, dispatcher for First Student, said drivers of school buses have not been delayed in delivering students to and from schools.

“About the only thing was a couple of buses had to detour around Kachemak Drive on Monday, but not when they had kids on board,” said Fica.

High said road crews will be working this week to finish cleaning up debris from the East End Road mudslides. Motorists should expect 5-minute delays.

Anchor Point

Last week, flood water surrounded residences at the intersection of Ester Avenue and Birch Street. A new channel dug by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area to divert the water offered some relief by the weekend, but Sunday night’s heavy rainfalls changed that.

“We’re back in the water,” said Courtney Goesch on Monday. Goesch lives at the corner of Ester and Birch.

With rain continuing to fall, the force of the flooding water on the north side of Ester was channeled across the gravel borough-maintained road, with the water seeking lower ground towards Milo Fritz Avenue, a state-maintained street several blocks away.

Like Ester, Milo Fritz lacks culverts, so the water, with nowhere to go, is flooding yards and septic systems and cutting off residences from street access. One of those residences was a mobile home recently purchased by Cindy Edwards.

“We were hoping to rent it,” said Edwards. Those plans, however, are on hold due to the mobile home’s flooded septic system.

“We’re looking at freeze-up in another couple of weeks,” said Edwards. “It may be another of those years when we have ice on top of standing water like we did a couple of years ago.”

Updates and reporting

In the disaster proclamation, Navarre requested Gov. Sean Parnell declare a disaster emergency to exist “and provide disaster assistance, to include without limitation continued technical expert assistance, to the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the city of Seward.” 

Navarre specifically requested public assistance for emergency response measures, as well as temporary and permanent repairs to public facilities, technical assistance to evaluate damages to public and individual homeowners, individual assistance for impacted home and business owners, and public health water quality testing and safe drinking kids for at least 1,500 residential structures.

The declaration has been sent to the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

An online form for reporting flooding and flood damage is available on the borough’s Office of Emergency Management website, www.borough.kenai.ak.us. Also available on the site are updates and information on care of drinking water system, septic systems, dealing with mold and mildew in flood-damaged homes and repairing flooded homes.

“We also would encourage people to like us on Facebook,” said Brenda Ahlberg, borough public information officer. “We’re trying to keep it current with things as they develop.”

Clear weather on Tuesday let water go down and took some pressure off road crews, High said.

“We’re guardedly optimistic going into the weekend with the temperatures cooling off,” he said. “Hopefully the rain will go to snow.”

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