Assembly again denies K-Beach flooding land deal

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show that the initial land trade proposed in 2014 would have traded a borough-owned parcel on the bluff for an easement on the Karluk Basin property.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly shot down an agreement at its Tuesday meeting intended as a flooding contingency plan in an area of Kalifornsky Beach Road damaged by high groundwater in 2013.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre proposed an ordinance to purchase a drainage easement on a piece of property on the corner of Karluk Avenue and K-Beach Road, commonly referred to as the Karluk Basin. When the area flooded in 2013, the basin filled with water and overflowed into the adjoining road and properties. Borough workers ran a pipe and hoses from it under the K-Beach Road, across private property on the bluff and out to Cook Inlet to drain some of the water, ultimately pumping about 6 million gallons of water out in two rounds.

The drainage helped, but it required voluntary cooperation from the landowners both on the bluff and in the basin. Initially, in 2014, Navarre’s administration organized a land swap of an easement on the Karluk Basin for a strip of borough-owned land on the bluff across K-Beach Road to give the borough a permanent option to drain the water from the basin in case the floods ever happened again. However, the assembly rejected the trade in December 2015, saying the value was shortchanging for the borough. According to the most recent appraisal, dated Sept. 23, 2016 and provided to the assembly at the Tuesday meeting, the bluff property was appraised at approximately $101,700, while the entire property with the basin is worth about $160,000, with the easement portion worth about $51,000.

The administration then went back to the property owners, Paula and Timothy Keohane, and negotiated the sale of the easement rather than a land trade for $60,000.

However, the purchase again didn’t sit well with the assembly, nor with the Borough Planning Commission, which recommended denial of the measure 10-1. The assembly, which has four new members since the last time the issue of the K-Beach flooding was discussed, took issue with the sale price again.

“I appreciate hearing what the appraiser came up with for a value but I still have a problem paying this much for an easement,” said assembly member Dale Bagley. “I don’t think it’s a permanent solution.”

Residents of the area who have been active over the last four years opposed the sale as well, saying it wasn’t a permanent solution and they would rather see a better-coordinated drainage plan. Resident Toby Burke presented a letter with 10 bullet-point reasons for the assembly to object to the sale. If the administration doesn’t want to install a drainage and outfall system for the K-Beach area because the floods aren’t likely to happen again, it doesn’t make sense to purchase the easement, either, he said.

“If we’re going to use that rationale, it would also not justify buying a reserve or an easement on the Keohane property,” Burke said.

Neighbor Dan Sterchi, who lives next door to the property the borough originally meant to swap for the Karluk Basin but was not in the flood zone himself, said he is concerned about the example it would set for the borough to purchase the easement.

“I think this will set a real bad precedent in the future for all the borough’s business, in Homer, in Seward, and everywhere,” he said. “There’s people with drainage galleries that are going to want something done and then they’re going to look at this … the borough is leaving themselves wide open on this one.”

Navarre argued that it is a permanent solution of sorts. Immediately after the flood water receded, the borough dug ditches along some of the roads as drainage galleries, allowing water to percolate through the ground and out through the bluff to the beach, and has been monitoring the groundwater levels since. The flood in 2013 was the culmination of heavy rains and snowfall and hasn’t happened again since, though there have been heavy rains in the years subsequently. If water rises again, the borough could do the same thing it did last time rather than spend large amounts of money constructing a drainage system for a flood that may or may not happen, he said.

The residents of K-Beach have the option of setting up a flood service area and taxing themselves for flood mitigation, the way the residents of the flood-prone Bear Creek area near Seward do, he said. Otherwise, the borough is relatively hampered in what services it can provide.

“The question really is that in an event that happens maybe once in a generation, what is something prudent to put in place?” he said. “In this case, it’s not a fix for everything. If we had another event like 2013, we’d be scrambling again, because you cannot build to a once in a generation event. It does not make fiscal sense.”

Assembly member Stan Welles agreed with Navarre, saying it was better than nothing. It’s troubling that the borough doesn’t require a drainage plan when a new subdivision is being developed, he said. The best plan would be to get a drainage engineer and design drainage plans for new subdivisions, but given the state’s fiscal situation, that’s unlikely, he said.

“I am of the full opinion that given another 2013 flood event, we’re going to refill that basin as frequently as we wish to pump it,” he said. “I’m very supportive of this as Plan B when I look at the cost per gallon to at least provide a degree of relief and I’m not interested in letting that water sit there and percolate through to the beach. All that’s going to do is blow out the highway again, which it’s already done a couple of times down the road.”

However, the assembly shot down the ordinance 6-3, with Welles, assembly member Jill Schaefer and Assembly President Kelly Cooper supporting it.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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