By Rick Smeriglio for SCN –
When snow melts and forms ice ponds on city property leased to private businesses, who has responsibility to drain the problem? City of Seward has spent about $35 million over the years to develop Seward Marine Industrial Center (SMIC), but serious problems due to inadequate drainage persist, according to at least some tenants at SMIC. Tenants there generally develop and improve their leaseholds at their own expense.
Pat Marrs, who owns Communication North and the lot at 204 Nash Road at SMIC, says that ponded water surrounds his building during times of snowmelt and spring runoff. Marrs says that he established the foundation of his building about 21 inches above surrounding grade. David Phillips who owns Raibow Fiberglass has also noted icing problems on a lot he leases at SMIC. Boats stored in maintenance yards become mired in slush and ice making difficult working conditions for crews. Philips recently cited water and ice as serious problems affecting his boat-repair business. Harmon Construction recently added a lift of gravel to a lot it leases from the city at SMIC to elevate the ground above surrounding grade.
In a recent interview with Seward City News, Eric Day, operations manager for Alaska Logistics, a barge company located at SMIC, cited numerous problems with inadequate drainage. He said that the whole lot leased from the city ices up in winter and spring. According to Day, his company has hauled thousands of dollars worth of rock at its own expense, some 40 truckloads, to keep water and ice away from its building. He called it a “disaster” and a “hazard to us“. Day regarded drainage as a city problem and said that the city dumps snow in the wrong place.
Said Day, “I believe that any time you lease out ground, then you have the responsibility to keep the drainage clear.”
At the June meeting of the Seward Economic Growth Plan group, Seward Mayor Jean Bardarson noted an immediate need for grading, but also saw need for a more comprehensive, longer-term plan to solve the drainage problem.
“Absolutely I’ve been talking to Jim [City Manager Jim Hunt] about that,” said Mayor Bardarson.
The Mayor also noted the on-going development of a new, overall plan for SMIC that likely will include provisions for improved surface drainage. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority could fund the multi-million dollar plan according to Bardarson. She could not say how soon the plan and the funds would materialize.
When asked if improvement of drainage depended on completion of the new plan and city receipt of State funding, Mayor Bardarson replied, “No, I don’t think so … not necessarily.”
She explained that City Council could fund grading and filling of city lots at SMIC from the general fund whenever it resolved to do so.
City of Seward Public Works Department has responsibility for the last paved mile of Nash Road ending at SMIC and for various unpaved roads, ditches and culverts along platted rights of way at the industrial center. As of mid July, the last mile Nash Road featured deep, recently-mowed drainage ditches and large, open culverts that appeared capable of conveying water away from the road. Several minor, side roads in the area such as Jellison, Mustang and Morris avenues or Olga and Delphin streets, seemed to have lower standards. City-owned and leasable lots lie along these rights of way. As of mid July, the roads featured shallow, weed-choked ditches and small, somewhat blocked culverts. To the unaided eye, the road surfaces seemed to lie at about the same elevation as did the adjoining lots.
Seward Public Works Director W. C. Casey said of the roads, ditches and culverts in the area, “I know these things are inadequate. Those rights of way have not been developed. Back in the 1980’s when most of the infrastructure was being developed, the city just ran out of money.”
Casey also said in an e-mail that except for city employees, no one has complained to him about inadequate drainage causing problems on city property at SMIC. City of Seward web site, sub-section Public Works Department, has a form for lodging complaints about “blocked drainage channel” and “storm sewer blockage”. Casey also noted that groundwater lies about four feet under the surface throughout the area and that fact could limit ditch depths and drainage options. Casey seemed doubtful about a piecemeal approach of lot owners or leaseholders individually raising their lots with gravel.
“The whole area needs to be engineered,” he said.
The current SMIC Development Plan, prepared by city of Seward and last reviewed in 2011, addresses the drainage problem. It calls for filling and grading of low-lying areas. Title 5 of Seward municipal code allows for creation of improvement districts. In these districts, property owners bear a special tax to fund half the cost of local improvements such as engineered drainage. City of Seward owns much of the land at SMIC. The problem of storm-water flooding, different from melt-water flooding, also looms over SMIC. Fourth of July Creek, which bounds the area uphill to the south and east, could flood the whole development if not for gravel removal and water diversion. Chairman Bill Williamson of the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area thought his group could help with the drainage problem.
Williamson said, “I haven’t had any contact with anyone who has raised this issue. No one has come to any of our meetings. We’re more of an instream group. However, we could act as a liaison between the City and the Borough, perhaps to get some funding.”
Williamson said, “First, we would send a hydrologist to identify the problem.”