Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Debbie Brown, of Soldotna, squats in her damp crawl space on Silverweed Street where she said water has been seeping underneath the plastic on Saturday Feb. 28, 2015 in Soldotna, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Debbie Brown, of Soldotna, squats in her damp crawl space on Silverweed Street where she said water has been seeping underneath the plastic on Saturday Feb. 28, 2015 in Soldotna, Alaska.

Fighting back against the flood

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, February 28, 2015 10:29pm
  • News

The frozen pools cemented in Silverweed Street’s culverts are not natural.

Some of the contaminated ice was pumped directly from the crawl space of various Kalifornsky Beach subdivisions’ residents, and will likely flood multiple properties as it melts.

Debra Brown, who has lived on the street for more than 30 years is sitting in her gray Subaru, black ear muffs covering her ears, chatting with Cindy Minkler who owns the property. It is the highest point on the street.

Minkler has been trying to sell her home, and finally has control over the flooding that has plagued her basement on and off, for two years. The “for sale” sign is visible, erected at the end of her driveway.

The two are discussing the impending lagoons of standing water that will inevitably fill the basements of their neighbors, flood furnaces and septic systems, mold homes and permeate yards.

“We have been fighting this on and off for two years,” Minkler said.

After an unusually snowy and rainy year in 2012 and a four-month deluge of precipitation beginning in July 2013, the wicked weather culminated in a rainstorm on Oct. 27-28 that devastated Kalifornsky Beach properties. The water table has seen minimal reduction since.

Brown pulled into Minkler’s driveway to remind her that members of the K-Beach High-Water Drainage Task Force will be attending the March 17 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting.

o bring up the nearly two-year-old symptoms of a risen water table.

This week Brown joined the task force. As recently as last week, there were inches of groundwater resting in the crawl space of what she considers her “retirement home.”

“The ball needs to start rolling,” Brown said.

Right now the residents have more questions than answers.

“Why don’t they just run it into the Cook Inlet?” Brown said. “How hard would that be?”

Brown was referring to the Kenai Peninsula Borough who many believe is responsible for handling the devastation.

Mayor Mike Navarre said the borough actually has little jurisdiction over the current situation.

It is a challenge to get state or federal assistance under a “disaster declaration” because there is “no provision for groundwater,” Navarre said. It was possible to receive a federal disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was signed by President Barack Obama, during the devastating flooding in October 2013 because it was an issue of excess surface water, he said.

Jan Shelton, who attended Monday’s task force meeting — their fourth since November — mentioned how badly the situation needs the interest of engineers.

She and her husband Kyle Shelton purchased their Kalifornsky Beach house, and became first time homeowners in 2010.

They had the most beautiful lawn on the street, Brown said.

Now their front yard is virtually barren. The couple pulled up all vegetation from the land hoping to drain some of the water soaking the property.

“We’ve spent around $40,000 in repairs in the past two years,” Kyle Shelton said.

Their crawl space has an elaborate, expensive system of plastic pipes that constantly pump water out of the hole, Jan Shelton said. If the system stops, the crawl space fills to the brim, six feet above ground, she said.

Recently, the street was raised because the flooding would sit and pool on top of the roadway, Brown said. But that didn’t solve anything, she said.

“They (the borough) just keep hiding the issue,” Brown said.

Navarre said that the roads are doing exactly what they were designed too. Since the Kenai Peninsula Borough is second-class general law, the responsibility of roadway drainage is under the Department of Transportation.

However, Task Force co-chair Jim Munter said there are not enough culverts being installed.

“There is a persistent pattern of culverts not being put in,” Munter said. “It is frankly devastating for people.”

Some believe the problem is the design of the culverts.

Jan Shelton looks down at the shiny silver culvert that runs beneath the end of her driveway.

“The culverts on this street have nowhere to drain,” Shelton said. And it’s true.

A quick glance to the corner of Silverweed Street shows an even larger frozen pond fed by the water pumped from crawlspaces and draining from front yards along the street. The solidified tributary simply stops at the road’s entrance.

While there remains disagreement about responsibility and how to treat the symptoms of the flooding, Brown, Shelton and their neighbors are talking and want to get things done.

They have chosen to get behind the Task Force and related organizations.

The K-Beach Flood Mitigation Project non-profit, headed by Kelly Lipinksi, was formed at the end of January, with the sole purpose of assisting the efforts of the task force.

“The non-profit works as a liaison between organizations and the community,” Lipinski said.

The Mitigation Project will also work to identify what governmental or non-governmental organizations are responsible for specific projects aimed at remedying the damage.

Right now the main focus is the Seventh Street Water Conveyance Structure, which would be installed with the goal of draining surface water toward the Kenai River, Lipinski said. The structure would run along the Seventh Street section line, she said.

The Mitigation Project has already had discussions with Navarre and borough hydrologist Dan Mahalak about the future of the project. Navarre said the borough is open to hearing proposals from the Task Force and the Mitigation Project.

The Mitigation Project would help identify sources and procure funding for Task Force Projects, Lipinski said.

On Jan. 22 the Mitigation Project submitted a proposal for a High Water Relief and Prevention and Feasibility Study to the Department of Natural Resources, Munter said.

“The purposes of the study are to gain a better understanding of the causes and extent of persistent high water-table flooding conditions between 2012 and 2015,” according to the Feasibility Study preliminary scope of work and schedule.

The project will also identify and evaluate potential remedies, and provide recommendations for further actions, according to the preliminary plan.

The Mitigation Project will figure out how to foot the estimated $259,908 bill for the study, Lipinski said.

Finding ways to appropriate this kind of money for a community project requires coordinating with other organizations, Lipinski said. To accomplish the Conveyance Structure the Mitigation Project is working with Task Force the Department of Natural Resources and the borough, she said.

Munter said the Task Force has also spoken with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and the Army Corps of Engineers.

None of them have expressed much interest, Munter said.

“They all have a different story, often it is peripheral to what they mostly do,” Munter said.

The Mitigation Project is beginning to bridge the gap between the various agencies, Lipinski said.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulclarion.com

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