City Hopeful For Progress On Bluff Erosion

For decades, the city of Kenai has been waiting for plans for a bluff erosion project. After getting the attention of ranking officials in the US Army Corps of Engineers, that might finally be happening. KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran has more.

Listen:

:http://www.kdll.org/wp-content/uploads/140310.bluff_.erosion.mp3|titles=140310.bluff.erosion

“Kenai bluffs wash away, project closes in.”

“Kenai sees progress on bluff erosion project.”

“Project to stabilize Kenai River bluff approved.”

“Life on the edge- crumbling Nikiski bluffs cause destruction, even death.”

When you ask Uncle Google what he knows about the erosion problems along the bluffs in Kenai, the answers he gives might lead you to believe the bulldozers and pipefitters are already on site. But some of those headlines are more than five years old. And the erosion problem itself goes back, well, as long as people have wanted to build stuff on the edge of the bluff. Kenai city manager Rick Koch told the city council at its meeting last week that a recent trip to Washington D.C. leaves him feeling like this time might be different.

“It caused the Alaska district of the Corps to be held accountable for where the project sits.”

Right now, the project sits with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, part of the Corps of Engineers.

“I think it was fairly uncomfortable for them having the Assistant Secretary, having their staff call and say ‘gee, somebody is saying that this thing is held up on the Assistant Secretary’s desk and we don’t know anything about it.’ There was some scrambling I think being done both in the Alaska office and in the Pacific division office in Hawaii.

The stage we’re sort of stuck at is getting the okay for a final feasibility study. See, no one really knew if they had authority to give that okay. But Koch thinks they’ve finally got that figured out.

“We had the heavy hitters there. We had their chief counsel was involved, the head of their design and construction…By the end of it, their comments were it appeared the authorization provided was broad enough that they should be able to move forward with a final feasibility study.”

The other, arguably bigger, issue is funding. At some point, everyone was ready to pony up for this thing; the city, the state and the federal government. But there was that thing with the economy a few years back, and the resulting sequestration, and grants from the state have expired. The city, though, is like a little kid with a full piggy bank looking at a new bike.

“We’ve made that offer for the last three years, that we have $4 million of state appropriation. We’ve got cash burning a hole in our pocket to some degree. We’re in for 35% of the project value whether we pay their share of this now, or we pay 35% later.

The money for the Corps’ share of the study exists, somewhere, but they’re trying to figure out how they can appropriate it to themselves. Total cost for the project is now estimated at more than $40 million dollars. Koch said it still has support from Alaska’s congressional delegation and that he was anticipating hearing a decision about the feasibility study this week.