A sign warning residents of of bluff erosion is seen at the end of Spur View Drive in Kenai, Alaska, on Sept. 14, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign warning residents of of bluff erosion is seen at the end of Spur View Drive in Kenai, Alaska, on Sept. 14, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Bluff project enters design phase

The effort to stabilize erosion of the Kenai bluff has been a city priority for years

The city of Kenai signed an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers Friday to enter the design phase of the Kenai Bluffs Bank Stabilization Project, and design work is set to begin later this year.

City Manager Paul Ostrander said Monday that the news is a major development for the project, which has been a priority of the city for years.

“This is a big step towards this project becoming a reality,” Ostrander said. “With this design project kicking off in the next month, you could see a completed design by this time in 2021, which would allow for construction in 2022. Again, all this is contingent on federal funding.”

Ostrander said the Army Corps may or may not include the project in its spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which determines how federal funds are allocated. Entering the design phase makes the project more likely to be included.

“It’s up for consideration for the spending plan, but it has been for the last two years,” Ostrander said. “The thought is, if you get a shovel-ready project, that will increase your odds of getting funding for construction.”

As part of the agreement, the city is responsible for paying 35% of the design and construction costs for the project. Ostrander said the city has already committed 100% of the $1 million design cost using a state grant that the city received for the project several years ago. The agreement also states that, when and if construction on the project begins, 65% of the design cost — $650,000 — will be reimbursed to the city.

The most recent estimates on eventual construction costs vary widely — from $25 million to $40 million, Ostrander said — and will likely change with the completion of the design phase. The current estimates would leave a bill of between $8.75 million and $14 million for the city to cover. Ostrander said a financial commitment like that would be put on the ballot in the form of a bond proposal. Ostrander urged Kenai residents to consider the impact that the investment will have on the community.

“I really want people to understand the importance of this project,” Ostrander said. “Capital investment in Old Town Kenai along this bluff has been nonexistent for several decades. And if we can stabilize that area again, I mean it is really one of the most spectacular parts of our town and the potential there is enormous if we can stop the erosion of this bluff.”

Project details

The project as it is currently planned will stabilize approximately 5,000 feet of bluff on the north shore of the Kenai River, starting at the creek near the river mouth and ending just upriver from the Kenai Senior Center. A large rock wall will be placed at the bottom, or “toe,” of the bluff, which is intended to mitigate the erosion caused by the river.

Ostrander said that the idea is, as erosion continues to take place at the top of the bluff but not at the bottom, it will reach a “natural angle of repose” and will eventually stop eroding altogether, allowing vegetation to grow back.

“Essentially right now we have what is, for all intents and purposes, a vertical bluff,” Ostrander said. “You construct that wall at the bottom, and as it continues to erode what you end up with, rather than a vertical bluff, is that it fills in behind that structure and the bluff reaches a natural angle of stability.”

That transformation is estimated to take about 15 years, according to the City of Kenai’s website on the project.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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