City of Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtain, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Elaina Spraker, Adam Trombley and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank cut the ribbon to celebrate the start of work on the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtain, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Elaina Spraker, Adam Trombley and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank cut the ribbon to celebrate the start of work on the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

‘The future is bright for the City of Kenai’

Kenai celebrates start of bluff stabilization project after developing for 40 years

After decades of planning and effort to get the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project off the ground, a ribbon-cutting held Monday morning celebrated the long-awaited start of work on the project.

Behind the Kenai Senior Center, a few dozen attendees and dignitaries gathered within sight of the bluff that has caused the City of Kenai so much consternation over the years.

The project will construct a berm roughly 5,000 feet long, stretching from the mouth of the Kenai River to near the city dock, at the bluff’s toe, to catch falling sediment. Over time, the berm is intended to stabilize erosion and allow vegetation to grow on the bluff’s face.

Originally expected to cost $41.6 million, the project is now estimated to cost around $19.3 million. Seattle-based Western Marine Construction will do the work of constructing the berm, including placing 42,400 cubic yards of armor rock, 33,200 cubic yards of crushed rock and 13,100 cubic yards of gravel base.

The project advanced significantly under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2022. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured $28 million in federal funds, and $6.5 million came from the State of Alaska’s capital budget that fiscal year. Another major boost for the project in recent years came as part of the federal Water Resources Development Act of 2022, which reduced the share of the project costs borne by the City of Kenai from 35% to 10%.

Standing atop the bluff on Monday, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel said the project will ensure the “magnificent view” is preserved for generations to come. He said that in high school, he went on dates with his wife at the Harborview Restaurant — “that’s gone now.”

“We need to have a stable bluff to be able to have the type of investment we need in Old Town Kenai, as well as Millennium Square,” he said. “All this area now has a better chance of being developed into something that brings people to Kenai.”

Gabriel recognized that the work to see the bluff stabilization project began long before he became mayor, saying, “I’m just the lucky guy that happens to be in the seat right now, able to cut the ribbon.”

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski said the project would be a driver of economic activity in Kenai — “this place that is at the heart and the nexus of so many great industries.” He said Kenai will grow because of the federal investment and offer greater opportunity for business and recreation.

Similarly, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said the bluff represented loss. He said he remembered staying at Miller’s Boarding House, where you could play football on the field between the building and the bluff. That’s not possible anymore.

“We can talk about how sad it is, how much we’ve lost, but there’s no way we would’ve gotten the attention we finally received on this project without this loss,” he said. “This isn’t just about bluff stabilization. This is about commerce stabilization, planning stabilization, stabilization of the City of Kenai, which means stabilization of the borough.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has long supported the project and attended the ribbon-cutting, said that federal studies and federal dollars have been allocated to the project since the 1970s. She said the project addresses a big problem hindering Kenai’s ability to expand and threatening both residential and commercial properties.

Murkowski said the funding included in the infrastructure bill is a significant investment and credited fellow Sen. Dan Sullivan with lowering the cost share.

“There’s very few projects where you have a community say this is our number one priority — year after year after year, leader after leader, council after council,” she said. “That’s a pretty clear indicator that this is important.”

Elaina Spraker, speaking for Sullivan, said the project came in $20 million under budget — “in this day and age, that’s unheard of.”

Former City of Kenai Mayor John Williams was cited by Gabriel, Bjorkman and Murkowski as a long-time driver of the project. He wasn’t among Monday’s speakers but attended the ribbon-cutting. He told the Clarion after the ceremony that, at 86 years old, he thought he wouldn’t live to see work start on the project.

“I’ve had everybody from Newt Gingrich to Madeleine Albright down here to look at this project,” he said. “The trips to Washington, D.C. — I can’t even tell you how many of those — all the politicking and everything that it took to do it, we finally got it.”

Williams recalled the first funding he secured for the project, when Vince O’Reilly was Kenai’s mayor in the late 1970s. He was sent to Juneau to secure $50,000 for a baseline study, and when he asked then-Rep. Hugh Malone for the money, he was told such a small sum “ain’t worth it.”

“He said, ‘I’ll give you $500,000, go back and hire a good engineer,’” Williams said. “That was the very first study.”

Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Alaska district commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the start of work on the bluff project represented the “culmination of years of hard work from federal, state, local and private stakeholders.” He said that over this year’s construction season, the focus will be on producing the rock needed to construct the berm — a quantity of rock that will require “30 to 40 very large barges.”

That work is already underway, he said, as production has commenced in Sand Point, located along the Aleutian Islands just off the Alaska Peninsula. Local installation won’t begin until 2025.

“We will continue to build upon the collaborative partnership with the City of Kenai over the next two years of construction … to deliver outstanding results,” he said. “There’s a dual responsibility to deliver vital infrastructure projects and be good stewards of taxpayer money. This project will be a wonderful example of both.”

Speaking after the ceremony, Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank said that construction is expected to wrap in “early February 2026,” that the city’s partners on the project haven’t wavered on that timeline at all.

“I think next summer, it’ll be a busy time.”

He said the erosion of the bluff has hampered Kenai’s development for a very long time and that he thinks the project will open up a large swath of the city to new and exciting development.

As the final speaker before the ribbon was cut, Eubank said “the City of Kenai is not afraid to push the envelope.” He said the stabilization project is unlike anything the Corps of Engineers has done before, and that it’s going to “propel this community into the future.”

“Everybody should be excited and looking forward,” he said. “Yes, it’s been going on for 40 years, but for me, my eyes are looking forward now. I can’t wait for it to be finished. The future is bright for the City of Kenai.”

More information about the project can be found at kenai.city. A full recording of the ribbon-cutting can be found at “Kenai Chamber of Commerce” on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees gather for the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees gather for the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Alaska district commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Alaska district commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Elaina Spraker and Adam Trombley speak at a ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Elaina Spraker and Adam Trombley speak at a ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Mayor of Kenai John Williams, center, attends the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Mayor of Kenai John Williams, center, attends the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Acting Program Manager Randy Bowker from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Acting Program Manager Randy Bowker from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and City Manager Terry Eubank speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and City Manager Terry Eubank speak at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtain, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Elaina Spraker, Adam Trombley and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank cut the ribbon to celebrate the start of work on the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtain, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Elaina Spraker, Adam Trombley and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank cut the ribbon to celebrate the start of work on the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtain, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Elaina Spraker, Adam Trombley and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank cut the ribbon to celebrate the start of work on the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

City of Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtain, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Col. Jeffrey Palazzini, Elaina Spraker, Adam Trombley and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank cut the ribbon to celebrate the start of work on the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees gather for photos at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees gather for photos at the ribbon-cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former City of Kenai Mayor John Williams gather for photos at the ribbon cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former City of Kenai Mayor John Williams gather for photos at the ribbon cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Mayor of Kenai John Williams and Sen. Lisa Murkowski chat with one another at the ribbon cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Mayor of Kenai John Williams and Sen. Lisa Murkowski chat with one another at the ribbon cutting for the Kenai River Bluff Stabilization Project on the bluff above the Kenai River in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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