Snow coats an eroding bluff near the mouth of the Kenai River on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Snow coats an eroding bluff near the mouth of the Kenai River on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Bluff project moves ahead

Kenai to buy last land parcels needed for stabilization effort

Kenai City Council members on Wednesday gave city administration the greenlight to purchase the last piece of land needed to move forward with long-awaited stabilization of the Kenai bluff.

The Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project has been decades in the making and aims to stabilize 5,000 feet of bluff on the north shore of the Kenai River from the mouth of the river to about Pacific Star Seafoods near the city dock. Through the project, a berm would be constructed at the toe of the bluff, which is currently eroding at a rate of 3 feet per year.

The legislation passed by council members Wednesday authorizes the city to use up to $10,000 to acquire the property, near the end of Main Street in Kenai, which the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s GeoHub tool says is about three-tenths of an acre. The city will buy the land from Glenda Sterling and Billy McCann, et al., according to the resolution.

Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom wrote in a Feb. 22 memo to council members that acquisition of the property was complicated. One of the owners, Bloom wrote, is dead, so the city must retain outside counsel to get a sufficient title to the property. Further, a bump in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s valuation of wetlands caused the assessment to jump from $200 in 2020 to $1,800 in 2023.

“The City is working with the Borough to address this increase,” Bloom wrote. “Time is of the essence in the purchase of the property to maintain the timeline for the project.”

Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank said during Wednesday’s council meeting that the city has three more parcels of land to secure for the project, including the parcel approved Wednesday. Eubank said final paperwork for the other two parcels is expected this week.

“This is the last parcel and it should tie up all the properties needed for the bluff erosion project,” Eubank told council members.

The city recently purchased another piece of land for the project — about 0.6 acres in size and adjacent to the property approved Wednesday — last year. Similar challenges arose through that process, as both owners were deceased.

The City of Kenai received 95% design documents on Feb. 23, which kicks off a buildability, constructability, operability, environmental and sustainability, or BCOES, process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While dates are subject to change, Eubank said the city is looking at advertising the project on June 12 and awarding a bid by Aug. 16.

The Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project received two major financial boosts last year. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured $28 million in federal funding for the project through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, while the State of Alaska chipped in $6.5 million.

Combined with an additional $3.2 million in state grants previously awarded for the project and money from the city’s general fund, the city last year said it has sufficient funds to cover a $35 million project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recommended the berm option, has committed to funding 65% of the project costs, while the city is responsible for coming up with the 35% local match. Project costs are not expected to exceed $35 million.

More information about the Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project can be found on the city’s project website at kenai.city/publicworks/page/kenai-bluffs-bank-stabilization-project.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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