Story last updated at 3:06 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Homer assesses damage
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Gary Thomas, Homer News
Local residents survey the storm damage on West Fairview Avenue Thursday morning. A week after rains flooded area rivers and lakes, cutting the Homer area off from the rest of the peninsula, cleanup and repair work continue.  
On Oct. 23, Homer's public works director Carey Meyer was watching the city's creek levels closely.

At 2 p.m., the creeks were high, but still under control.

Half an hour later, "all heck broke loose," Meyer said.

Now that the dust, or more accurately, the water, has settled, Meyer estimates the costs at several hundred thousand dollars. He said the city intends to declare a state of disaster and seek disaster funding.

One of the city's major problems was Woodard Creek, a typically mild-mannered stream that winds through the west end of Homer, running from beside Karen Hornaday Park to Kachemak Bay. Wednesday night, however, the creek filled with water, dirt and debris. Chunks of coal, brush and logs quickly plugged culverts, and the water rushed over Fairview Avenue.

Farther down, the water blew manhole covers off and overflowed on the south side of Pioneer Avenue. By the time it hit the Sterling Highway area, the creek was unstoppable.

Crews tried to keep the water from overflowing the highway by clearing out coal and other debris that plugged up the pipes, but to no avail. The water overflowed, causing significant water damage to areas downhill from the road, such as Main Street and several construction sites.

By 11 p.m., the state closed the highway east of Pioneer Avenue.


  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News Ocean Drive Loop resident Findlay Abbott checks the damaged seawall on Friday afternoon. Water running off the bluff above was trapped in the gravel and sand that reinforces the wall. Eventually the weight andpressure of the water-logged fill material broke open the fiberglass composite structure.  
"I think every piece of equipment was being used, and all the equipment operators were working overtime that evening and the following evening," Meyer said.

As dawn came on the morning of Oct. 24, the destructive forces of the flood gradually came into view. Channels 4 feet deep cut into the sides of roadbeds where overflowing water had sought a path. The Sterling Highway was thick with debris and mud from Pioneer Avenue all the way to outside the Homer Post Office.

Ironically, Meyer said, much of the flood waters ended up at the Public Works building.

Graders cleared mud off the streets, culverts were unplugged, and the road was reopened by midday.

Beluga Lake also posed a problem for Homer residents last week as water levels rose several feet.

Ron Nieman, who owns Homer Floatplane Lodge on Beluga Lake with his wife, said the water levels rose steadily the night of Oct. 23, and by 8:30 p.m., the water was up significantly. By midnight, it had covered the parking lot in front of the lodge and was seeping into the daylight basement.

"The water comes up slowly, and there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

Beluga Lake has an overflow pipe into the Beluga Slough, but the pipe was unable to compensate for the excessive water flowing in. Nieman said the drainage has boards over a portion of the overflow pipe to control the lake levels. In the winter, some of the boards are removed, he said, to lower the lake levels and compensate for ice, but the boards had not been removed yet.

"They (the Department of Transportation) could have reacted quicker," Nieman said, adding that he understood the department had a lot to do at that time.

Nieman said his lodge did not sustain any permanent damage, although he and his wife have spent the entire week cleaning up from the flood and collecting things that floated off.

"Overall, we did all right," he said. "But it was a lot of work."

On Friday, winds whipped Beluga Lake, sending chunks of grass floating down the lake and causing erosion under some areas of the road. For a while, it appeared the lake was close to overflowing the road, but aside from the occasional splashing wave, the road held back the water.

At the Homer boat harbor, harbor officer Bryan Hawkins was busy Oct. 23 with the heavy bilge pump as the downpour began to overwhelm many of the skiffs still moored along the floats there.

Hawkins said that in an emergency situation, the harbor staff will work to keep skiffs and other vessels afloat. Normally, he would call a boat owner to let them know their vessel was in trouble, but since many area residents were unable to drive out to the Spit, Hawkins said, he just wheeled out the pump and set to work.

Homer's new Ocean Drive Loop seawall also suffered significant damage in the storm. A drainage pipe from at least one of the blufftop properties showered enough water behind the backfill material reinforcing the fiberglass composite wall that it ruptured, tearing up a 50-foot section of the nearly 2,000-foot wall.

"We are working with the contractor to fix it," said Meyer. "At this point, we are considering it storm-related (damage) and not the fault of the wall, but that has yet to be determined."

The installation of the seawall was completed just days before last week's storm hit.

The biggest impact to the city, other than the cost of overtime and the depletion of the gravel stockpiles, has been the delay the floods have caused in the city's preparations for winter, Meyer said.

"Last week we were feeling like we were handling that pretty well," he said.

Now it will take several weeks and some hired contractors to get back on schedule, he said.

In an effort to prevent flood damage like last week's from happening again, Meyer said, the city is looking for ways to keep debris from moving down into the residential areas with storm water. Without the debris, the culverts likely would have been adequate to handle most of the floodwaters.

Meyer said development on the slopes over Homer may have contributed to some of the debris the creeks washed along, but it is not the root of the problem.

"Woodard Creek is an ongoing maintenance problem, and we all recognize that something needs to be done to keep this from happening again," Meyer said.