By Heidi Zemach for SCN
Senator Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, our newly-elected state senate district representative, and new chair of the Senate Resources Committee, may have uncovered a solution to allow dredging to take place in certain flood-prone streams and creek beds, and thus significantly help the Seward area’s flood prevention efforts. The issue came up during the first town hall meeting in Seward Dec 15, one of several meetings that Giessel held throughout the district last weekend, before the new session begins in Juneau.
Due to two statutes, found in legislation that passed last year under House Bill 361, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources can allow municipalities to dredge gravel in state-owned streams and creek beds (considered “Navigable”) for free, or less than market value, if the DNR determines that it is in the public interest. The DNR commissioner also may now convey materials at less than fair market value to municipalities, other state and federal agencies, or other entities, and make other arrangements for land and materials as mitigation of a flooding area where the deposition of excess material significantly contributes to flooding.
The City, Borough, or Seward Bear Creek Flood Board would need to have a site-specific flood mitigation plan pre- approved by the DNR commissioner, and determined to be in the best interests of the public. The new statute also allows the state to dispose of state land and resources for flood control projects. (*Read the statues at the bottom of this article.)
Giessel learned about the new rules’ existence during a teleconference held Dec 14 with key state officials including DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels, Division of Mining, Land and Water Staff Director Brent Goodrum, Chief of Operations Wyn Menefee, Chris Bonner on gravel issues, and Esther Temple of Legislative Affairs. Participating with Giessel, from the Kenai Peninsula Borough offices in Soldotna, were KPB Mayor Mike Navarre, Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander, and Seward Assistant Manager Ron Long.
The new state senator’s information was received with a great deal of skepticism and disbelief by town hall attendees such as Jim McCracken, former president of the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area Board, and Glen Schiff, whose Nash Road property has been severely and repeatedly flooded. Neither had former City Mayor Willard Dunham, Borough Rep. Sue McClure, nor resident Marilyn Sutherland ever heard of the statutes, not even in the aftermath of the devastating September flood events. Rather, area residents told Giessel they had repeatedly been informed by DNR officials that they could not legally dredge in state “Navigable” waters, unless they paid the state $3.50 per cubic yard for the gravel, or they removed it for public purposes, such as building roads. That cost was prohibitive due to the amount of gravel that needed extracting, and unfair because it was being dredged to mitigate flooding–not to sell for profit. As a result of the navigable waters issues, and borough permits required of private landowners wishing to dredge the creeks near their own homes, preventative dredging had stopped, the stream beds had filled up with gravel, and more properties were flooded during high rain events, such as the one four months ago.
“If it’s their gravel, and they have to remove it, why do we have to pay?” asked Dunham. He noted that all previous efforts to export gravel from Seward had been denied, and wondered why DNR couldn’t expedite a gravel export business instead. Schiff wondered why he must continue to pay borough property taxes in areas that the state claims it owns. But Giessel insisted that her information was good, and would be a first step in helping Seward to deal preemptively with certain perennially flooding creeks.
It was the first time that he had heard of those new statutes, said Long, who, as assistant city manager, had plenty of dealings with state officials during the course of dealing with recent flood events. “I came away from (the teleconference) feeling encouraged for the first time in a long time,” Long told SCN afterward. The test, he said, would be for the flood board to submit the KPB’s Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan to DNR for approval, and to work with DNR to see how to use the statues to best advantage.
Yesterday, Giessel informed SCN she had scheduled a follow-up meeting with Fogels, Director Goodrum, Menefee, and Seward City administrators to thoroughly discuss the issues raised by folks at the town hall meeting before leaving for Juneau.
Meanwhile, the KPB approved $400,000 for the removal of 28,000 cubic yards of gravel piled up on conservation land at Old Mill Subdivision that had been dredged from Lost Creek in the days and hours prior to, and during the September flood.
HB361 pertinent sections:
**Sec. 38.05.565. Sale or disposal of materials for special purposes. (a) The department may negotiate the sale or otherwise dispose of materials from sources or sites other than those designated under AS 38.05.550(b) to (1) municipalities, other state and federal agencies, or other entities under AS 38.05.872; sales under this paragraph may be at less than fair market value, and materials may be disposed of free of charge if the director determines that the disposal is in the public interest;
**Sec. 38.05.872. Disposition of state land and resources for flood control projects. (a) The department may make conveyances of title or other interests in state land, provide for exchange of land, or make other arrangements with respect to state land, as necessary to meet federally established requirements of flood control projects authorized inside the state by the United States. (b) The commissioner may convey materials at less than fair market value to municipalities, other state and federal agencies, or other entities, and make other arrangements for land and materials as mitigation of a flooding area where excess material deposition significantly contributes to the flooding, consistent with a site specific flood mitigation plan approved by the commissioner and determined to be in the best interests of the public.