Story last updated at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Concert goers not thwarted by high water

Rivers of mud, debris close East End Road

by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

Amid the deluge that turned the Kenai Peninsula into a muddy disaster area, city worker Rusty Cheney was maneuvering a backhoe in the gray afternoon light, trying to clear the Bear Creek culvert on East End Road.

Just upstream near the base of Bear Canyon, Olga Von Ziegesar was setting off on an unlikely and ill-fated hike.

A few minutes after Von Ziegesar set off, the canyon cut loose with a fury that was repeated in rivers and creeks up and down the southern peninsula.

"We heard all this cracking and we just watched this huge logjam break," Von Ziegesar said. "It stayed in the river, but it was pretty amazing because the whole river was just filled with logs, and it was moving really fast."

Von Ziegesar and her partner, John Fowler, who was operating a piece of excavating equipment nearby, were not in the torrent's path. Still, they moved up hill just to be sure.

Down at East End Road, workers at the Bear Creek culvert heard the roar as the flash flood crashed toward them.

Department of Transportation's Homer Airport and Highway Supervisor Mike Morawitz said he and the other members of the road crew screamed at Cheney to get away from the creek.

"He got out of there about four seconds before that wall of debris and water hit the road," Morawitz said.

The culvert was no longer an issue as the river of mud and water simply crossed the road and cascaded off the other side. A thick layer of mud caked the road on either side, and the entire area was strewn with huge coal boulders and full-sized logs.

Neighbors walked around in amazement as the road crews contemplated what the next step would be.

Within a few hours, the evening commute for East End residents went from wet to sloppy to impossible as the floodwaters damaged culverts and bridges from downtown Homer to Kachemak Selo.

Eventually, the culvert and a 20-foot section of pavement were washed out at Bear Creek.

Later on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 23, there was another flash flood up the road near Kachemak Drive as Dick Gregoire worked to clear debris from the intermittent creek that crosses under East End Road.

This time there was no warning as a wave of mud and debris washed onto the road, pushing Gregoire's multi-ton excavator across the road.

"That was a God Almighty mess," said Morawitz, who also witnessed that flood as it hit East End Road. "It left (the road) about three foot deep in mud debris. And at that point it was getting too dangerous, so we just pulled everybody out of there and shut the road down for the night."

There was also considerable damage, including the loss of some road surface, at Waterman Canyon and the Fritz Creek bridge.

Near Kachemak Selo, a bridge across Swift Creek was washed away, cutting off many residents in the Russian Orthodox Old Believer village. As of Wednesday, many teachers and students at the Kachemak Selo School were still crossing the creek by four-wheeler.

Kachemak Selo resident Sergei Reutov said he was hopeful that his community might receive some kind of aid to help them repair the bridge that accesses the village.

"Maybe everybody (from Homer) that uses this bridge could get together and pitch in," he said. "Who knows, maybe somebody has some beams laying about that they would like to give for a bridge."

On the other side of the village, Frank Martushev said he was struggling to keep his property alongside Fox Creek from ending up in Kachemak Bay.

He complained that his hands have been tied because the Department of Fish and Game refuses to let him divert the creek with his D-9 Caterpillar because Fox Creek is a salmon stream.

"I need to go with a Cat, and I need to work for days and days in there, to deepen up the channel or do something," Martushev said.

Fish and Game Habitat Biologist Stewart Seaberg said he didn't think retrenching the creek would solve Martushev's problem because he'd built in the outwash plain for Fox Canyon.

"He wants to keep the creek on one side of (his house), and it's not going to cooperate," Seaberg said.

While the time line for road repairs in the Russian village is still uncertain, repairs were progressing pretty well at other East End Road locations, according to Morawitz.

The cut in the pavement at Bear Creek had received a new culvert and was filled in and drivable by Saturday afternoon. Morawitz said the cleanup at the site was about 60 percent complete as of Wednesday morning.

He was uncertain whether DOT crews would be able to get pavement on that repair or any others before the onset of freezing weather.

"That really depends on Mother Nature," Morawitz said. "I'd say there's a 50-50 chance."


Music fans attending the John Prine concert at the Mariner Theatre on Oct. 23 found themselves getting an impromptu Alaska State Troopers' briefing from Mike Hayes of Downward Dog Productions.

As the lights came up following Prine's encores, Hayes told the crowd to grab a chair.

"There are some road closures I've got to tell you about," he said.

With the Sterling Highway closed, some Prine fans who'd driven down the road from Soldotna, Girdwood and Anchorage wound up on an unscheduled vacation in Homer. The highway finally re-opened on Monday.

A couple of fans who had found themselves on the wrong side of a closed East End Road before the concert, took drastic measures to make the show. Jeanne Parker was returning from work and found she could not get through, so she parked her car and hiked down to the beach and tromped through the water as it spread along the beach's gravel.

East End Road resident Marcee Gray and friend Charlie Stewart took a different tactic, shimmying up an alder and hopping across the creek near Kachemak Drive.

"We found a spot were some big alders went across, and it was a pretty easy crawl up these trees and over to the other bank," Gray said. "It was hysterically Homer."

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer