Story last updated at 3:46 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2002

Roads not yet back to level ground
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Mark Kelsey, Homer News
Cars line up Tuesday on the Sterling Highway as crews work to shore up the Beluga Lake embankment, which suffered erosion as a result of the lake water rising more than 3 feet during Octoberpis flooding.  
Two weeks after heavy rains brought flooding to the Kenai Peninsula, severing roads and overtaxing repair crews, the damages are still not completely repaired.

And it's still raining. Hard.

"I don't know that the roads will ever be back to normal again," said Gary Davis, road service director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. "They're a mess. And apparently, from the weather reports, there's a possibility of them getting messier."

By Wednesday, it seemed likely that Gov. Tony Knowles would follow Borough Mayor Dale Bagley's lead and declare the peninsula a state of disaster, said Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Murph O'Brien. The declaration would free up federal money to reimburse state and borough coffers for damage-related expenses.

O'Brien said that DOT would seek supplemental appropriations from the Legislature for any repair costs not covered by federal funding. DOT's share of the repairs are expected to cost as much as $11 million, he said.

"We had 44 different sites of damage, from mini-washouts to re-establishing Ninilchik beach access," he said. "A lot of our initial contracts and costs were time and equipment. That $10 or $11 million is just the DOT share, and doesn't include borough or municipality expenses, or damage to private property."

Davis said the borough expects repairs to roads and bridges to cost close to $1 million. That's about half the budget, he said, which causes some concern that the unexpected drain will negatively affect the borough's ability to keep roads clear of snow as winter settles in.

"Oh yeah, it will have an impact," Davis said. "You just never know how much snow you're going to get."

O'Brien said that crews would continue to work on the roads and bridges damaged by the floods.

"We've transitioned from maintenance response to design and construction," he said. In other words, the emergency is over.

Overtime crews deployed from other state locations have gone back to their regular assignments, and more permanent repairs are being made.

"We'll be continuing to work on the repairs, and trying to get as much done as we can before the winter freeze," he said. "Then, we'll be back out in the spring."

Among the more expensive repairs and their costs:

* 1,500 feet of Ninilchik Beach Road that washed away, $1.7 million;

* Deep Creek Bridge outside Ninilchik, $515,000;

* Nikolaevsk bridge, $265,000;

* Old Sterling Highway and Anchor River Beach Road sites, $600,000;

* Beluga Lake lakeshore embankment restoration, $170,000;

* Sterling Highway Mile 168 and Mile 169, $350,000.

Several sites along East End Road washed out in the storm will also cost $15,000 to $20,000 apiece to repair, O'Brien said, and the Waterman Canyon washout might cost as much as $32,000.

The destructive October flooding seems to have been caused not just by one or two days of heavy rain, Davis said, but by one or two days of heavy rain on top of nearly two months of rain.

"The grounds were just saturated," he said.

Unable to handle the 4 inches of rain that fell in a two-day period from Oct. 22-23, natural and man-made drainages overflowed. Debris carried by the water blocked off culverts, forcing water onto the roads and in many cases splintering the culverts under the pressure.

"We went to major damage areas and made temporary repairs first," Davis said. "Those were the hotspots. Then, after that, we started going back around to the rest of the areas."

To date, Davis estimates borough roads are 50 to 75 percent repaired.

Most bridges have been restored, except for three or four private bridges in the Anchor River area, he said. Crews are completely rebuilding Brody Bridge in Ninilchik.

"If it continues to rain, the roads are going to be a little mushy," Davis said. "We'll need some dry time to harden them up. Some of the temporary repairs may have brought in some larger rocks, so drivers may notice those. But in general, the roads should be pretty smooth."

Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homer