For several years, two of the top priorities of the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area (SBCFSA) board for flood mitigation projects has been armoring and stabilizing the “levees”, or earthen embankments, on Kwechak (Salmon) Creek and Box Canyon Creek. Each of these “levees” consists of river run materials pushed by bulldozers to form an embankment. Neither are armored or stabilized with large rip rap, and are therefore subject to erosion and disbursement during high water events.
As recently as the September 2012 flood event, the SBCFSA spent money to deploy a D9 bulldozer to the Box Canyon levee area, to be in place and ready to begin work once the Borough mayor declared a state of emergency. Once the Borough’s emergency response team became active in that event, it was not long before they had also deployed several large pieces of earth moving equipment to the Kwechak Creek levee. In the case of Kwechak Creek, after many long hours of work and a large expenditure of money, the efforts were successful and the levee was saved. In the case of Box Canyon, the flood waters eroded the levee too quickly and it failed, causing wide spread damage to homes and infrastructure below the levee.
Currently, the SBCFSA is working with the US Army Corps of Engineers on phase three of a four phase project to construct a certified levee on Kwechak Creek. This third phase was funded thanks to the recent Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED) local flood mitigation grant. If this project can be successfully completed, the days of deploying emergency equipment and operators to work tirelessly (and often dangerously) for many hours during a flood event to save this levee, will be over.
But what about Box Canyon Creek, what is being done there? Since the 2012 event, utilizing federal disaster funds, the earthen levee has been rebuilt to its pre-flood condition. However, its susceptibility to erosion during flood events has not changed. It is still just an earthen levee without any armor rock. Moreover, due to the geology of the area and the dynamics of the creek, water tends to shoot straight at the levee during flood events causing faster erosion.
So why is there currently a mitigation project on the Kwechak Creek levee and not one on Box Canyon Creek levee? There are two primary reasons: cost-to-benefit analysis and site control.
In order to get the Army Corps of Engineers to work on certifying a levee, and in order to get Congress to authorize funds for such a project, the project must meet certain federally established “Cost/Benefit” criterion. This criterion has been met for the Kwechak levee, but unfortunately it has not been met for the Box Canyon levee.
The second issue is who owns the land where these two levees exist. Most available grants require the grantee to have “site control” of the project. Site control is hard to establish if the grantee does not own the land where the work will be done. In the case of the Kwechak levee, the Kenai Peninsula Borough owns the land, so site control is not an issue. In the case of the Box Canyon levee, the levee sits partly on US Forrest Service land, but mostly it sits on private land. Even if the SBCFSA (i.e. the Borough) were to receive a grant to certify this levee, the Borough does not have site control.
The SBCFSA staff has spent many hours trying to overcome these two major obstacles associated with the Box Canyon levee without success. However, the Box Canyon levee continues to be a priority for the SBCFSA board and alternative solutions will continue to be investigated.
Regular meetings are held the first Monday of each month at 7:00 pm and Work Sessions are held the third Monday of each month at 7:00 pm, at the KPB Annex office in Sea View Plaza, 302 Railway Ave, Suite 122. Meeting agendas are available at the SBCFSA Office at 302 Railway Ave, Suite 123 between 9AM and 3PM Monday thru Thursday or on the SBCFSA Website at www.kpb.us/service-areas/