Funny River residents fear bank erosion

Residents of the Funny River community nicknamed a boulder near the confluence of the Funny and Kenai rivers “the magic rock.”

Some remember kids growing up angling for salmon from the rock, which stood just at the edge of the bank near the confluence. But these days, the rock is nowhere to be seen — it’s underwater, along with wide swathes of the Funny River bank.

The homeowners’ association that jointly owns the lot along the Funny River, the Clearwater Lot Owner’s Association, has been concerned about the level of erosion along a section of the Funny River for the past 15 years. The owners have tried mitigation to save the bank. Jim Harpring, a local property owner and former board member on the Clearwater Lot Owners’ Association board, said the association has twice tried to install spruce tree revetments along that section of the bank to stop it from collapsing.

“We’ve got pictures of Funny River looking like Class IV whitewater,” Harpring said. “Right now, you’ve got the backpush against the main Kenai, and so it looks like a pond. But when the spring floods come, it just takes this bank out.”

The fast current wiped out the spruce tree revetment the association initially installed in 2004 and a second one the association installed in 2006. With two failed mitigation efforts behind them and more bank eroding every year, the association wants to put in riprap, a type of rock usually used for breakwaters or bank stabilization, to shore up the bank for a longer period of time.

Installing riprap requires a conditional use permit, subject to approval by the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Planning Commission.

That’s where the homeowners’ association hit a roadblock. The borough enforces a 50-foot habitat protection zone around all anadromous streams, which includes the Funny and Kenai rivers. To operate inside that, the project has to meet a number of criteria and gain approval from multiple agencies.

Planning Department staff at the borough reviewed the application and recommended that the project doesn’t meet the criteria for a conditional use permit. Installing the riprap would reduce salmon habitat, remove natural vegetation and would add more structure to the habitat protection district. The applicants also did not submit hydrologic and hydraulic studies showing that there would be no damage to adjoining properties if the project goes through, according to the staff report submitted to the Planning Commission for its Monday meeting.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the permit for the project, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommended denying the permit because of the risk to salmon habitat, according to a letter submitted to the Planning Commission.

The main reason the lot owners object to using rootwad is because of the cost, in addition to their doubt that it will be a permanent fix. The rootwad method uses the root ball of a tree plus a portion of the trunk to armor the streambank and deflect flows away from the bank. It’s preferred because it can help protect the bank while still providing vegetation for fish habitat.

However, it’s significantly more expensive — for the roughly 163 feet of river bank proposed for the project, it would cost about $73,700, according to an estimate the lot owners’ association requested last year.

There are only 25 members of the association, calculating out to about $2,948 per lot owner. Not all lot owners will be able to afford that, Cathy Morgan said in her testimony to the Planning Commission Monday.

“That’s a huge amount of money, and what if it all washes away, too?” Morgan told the Planning Commission. “…If this all washes away, the people (who don’t have river-front lots) won’t have access to the river at all.”

Fish and Game offers a cost-sharing program in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help landowners and land managers fund bank restoration projects.

The program can cover 50 percent or more of the cost to complete a project, said Tracy Smith with the Division of Sportfish. The department is accepting applications for projects next season.

“It’s a win-win,” Smith said. “It’s stabilizing the stream bank, which is a pro for the landowner and for the fish at the same time.”

Fish and Game managers will visit a site and offer the landowners some options for possible bank stabilization. The preferred method varies by site, but rootwad offers instant fish habitat and can prove just as stable as any other method, Smith said.

Riprap does not offer as many hospitable areas for fish to hide, and it can be just as expensive as rootwad depending on a number of factors, she said.

Other methods, like the spruce tree revetment, are cheaper but require more maintenance, she said.

“We give you a variety of techniques you can use,” Smith said. “You can use cabled spruce trees, but those require maintenance once every three years. Cabled spruce trees are less expensive. If it’s maintenance you don’t mind, that’s a good option.”

Harpring said the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has installed riprap in a number of rivers in the borough to protect roads in recent years. He noted that other rivers, such as the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek, also have long stretches of riprap installed.

Harpring said he felt this was a double standard, as the Clearwater Lot Owner’s Association wants to install a similar project and is denied on the basis of impeding fish passage.

“There are apparently, in this borough, two standards — one for public facilities and one for the private sector,” Harpring said in his testimony to the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the conditional use permit. Some of the commissioners felt the project would damage fish habitat and there are still other options for the group to try to restore the bank.

The borough code allows for riprap to be used to protect public projects like roadways, said Tom Dearlove, the manager of the River Center.

Some of the projects Harpring cited, such as the ones on the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek, were in response to dramatic flood events. A current project DOT is working on for the North Fork of the Anchor River includes riprap for stabilization as well as vegetation and bioengineering to make it more habitat-friendly, he said. The River Center has not approved riprap to be used on private property before, he said.

“This (Funny River project) wouldn’t be what we consider an emergency,” Dearlove said.

“We’ve been working with them since 2012 on this. We would encourage them to come back and get some assistance from the cost-sharing program.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read