Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:37 PM on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

North Fork of Anchor River being rerouted after '02 flood



By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


 

Photo by Michael Armstrong

A backhoe sits in an old gravel pit near the south end of North Fork Road by the Anchor River after contractors with North Star Paving, Soldotna, had finished work on Tuesday. Under a project with the Kenai Watershed Forum, contractors are rerouting the Anchor River to its old channel before 2002 flooding moved the river into the gravel pit. The new channel will run in the area of the river shown in the right of the photo.

Under a project with the Kenai Watershed Forum, contractors are rerouting the Anchor River to its old channel before 2002 flooding moved the river into an old gravel pit near the south end of the North Fork Road. A temporary bridge has been built across the river to provide access to the opposite side.

Using Exxon Valdez Oil Spill settlement funds, the state bought the old gravel pit shortly before the 2002 flooding. Overburden from the pit has been sloughing off into the river, muddying the water. The river became wider and shallower than it had been, said Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

The $500,000 project also will level off the flood plain and replant willow and alders along the original river bank. Bare gravel areas in the flood plain will be revegetated. Pools and curves in the river will make the river better habitat for spawning and feeding salmon.

If left alone the river eventually would have been restored, but that might have taken a long time, Ruffner said.

"What's the best thing to do here? To leave it alone and take decades or intervene and try to do our best to restore it? We decided it was best to restore it," he said.

Construction has been going on after last year's salmon eggs hatched and before salmon spawn this summer. The project is expected to be done by July 15. An abandoned backhoe leaking diesel fuel will be hauled out this week.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly recently passed an ordinance establishing a 50-foot setback for all salmon streams in the borough. (See related story, page 15.) The old gravel pit was built next to the river and didn't have a setback.

"This is clearly one of the reasons why," Ruffner said of the ordinance. "We're spending a considerable amount of money trying to fix something because the gravel pit was built too close to the river. The flood plain of a major river is not a good spot for a gravel pit."

Funding for the Anchor River project is part of a $1.6 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to the Kenai Watershed Forum.

"We're happy with the project," said Ginny Litchfield, Kenai Peninsula area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Habitat. "I think it will be a real improvement to the habitat of the Anchor River."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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