A dispute over the best use of funds collected by the Seward–Bear Creek Flood Service Area continues to drive a wedge between the service area’s board and the administration of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
The service area board on Monday voted to prepare a letter or resolution criticizing the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s approach to flooding on Dieckgraeff Road, and denying responsibility for maintaining a road which board members say cannot be rescued from periodic flooding of Japanese Creek.
The board did not act on a protest resolution or a letter Monday night, agreeing to take up the matter at a future work session. But members spoke adamantly and at length against Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce’s position that the service area should be funding culvert clearance projects.
“We have been asked on more than one occasion to throw a lot of money to keep the dump road from flooding, when in fact the dump road was designed to flood,” said Board Member Randy Stauffer. “I believe that is a very poor use of taxpayer dollars.
“We can’t throw flood board money on putting Band-Aids on this.”
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Department of Solid Waste did not respond to questions about Stauffer’s assertion regarding the road design. City of Seward Public Works Director Doug Schoessler, however, said that Stauffer’s description is only partially accurate.
“The road was designed to run water through all the culverts, and if by chance it was overwhelmed over all of those, then you have a few lower areas designed in that would flood, and the road would get taken out,” Schoessler said. “Ideally that would be few and far between.”
Board Member Orson Smith echoed Stauffer’s remarks.
“They have a poorly designed road that is in constant jeopardy of inundation, with culverts that could very obviously be filled to the brim by a single event,” Smith said. “Taking care of that situation is not our responsibility.”
Board Member Robert Reissner agreed, criticizing the services area’s most recent expenditure on Dieckgraeff Road.
“Randy said it best earlier,” Reissner added. “We might as well have taken that $25,000, put it on the road and set it on fire.”
The portion of Dieckgraeff Road most susceptible to flooding sits under a tangled mess of jurisdictional prerogatives that have gotten in the way of maintenance and disaster response.
The gravel road is the only access to Seward’s solid waste transfer facility, a branch of the borough’s solid waste department. The borough also owns the land beneath the road, but the road is outside of the borough’s road service area, meaning that taxes levied for other borough roads cannot legally be used for maintenance there.
Finally, the road lies inside Seward’s city limits and the city has historically assisted the borough with culvert and ditch clearance.
Schoessler told the Seward Journal that the flooding problem has intensified in recent years as the land upstream of the road has risen.
“It’s built up six to eight feet on the upstream side,” Schoessler said. “One event raised the level of that whole floor up there by about five feet.”
The disagreement between the service area and the executive branch of the Kenai Peninsula Borough has been ongoing since at least September of last year, when Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce called a special meeting of the service area board and gave members a tongue lashing over what he called inaction on plugged culverts beneath the road.
Since that time, the service area has authorized multiple projects to clear culverts and channels around the road. Service area staff, board members and city public works officials agree that those moves amount to only temporary – sometimes very temporary – solutions.
“Those culverts were cleaned out in April, and we just finished cleaning them out the beginning of July,” said service area program manager, Stephanie Presley. “I can almost guarantee you that we’ll be cleaning them out again the beginning of flood season.”
Periodically clearing out the culverts does nothing to address the underlying problem, according to both Presley and Schoessler.
“You basically create a catch basin,” Preslsey said. “Without tens of thousands of dollars to dig channels and remove material from upstream … we’re never going to be able to control those flows.”
“I think that’s what they’re frustrated with,” Schoessler said. “Right now it is an endless thing.”