Oct 22, 2023


In a neighborhood off Kalifornsky Beach Road, a swampy environment, insufficient infrastructure and some human activities have led to a level of flooding residents say is damaging their yards and homes. The borough has made progress on lowering water levels in some areas, and has long-term plans to change the water flow patterns in the area. But some residents say they’re still waiting to see those impacts.

Robert Thompson lives on a wooded property off K-Beach, near where the road turns south to run along Cook Inlet. He said floodwaters have caused widespread damage to his property.

Thompson and his wife bought the house two years ago and moved in full time in February. When the snowmelt in May damaged his yard, septic system and water heater, he was frustrated. When it happened again this month following heavy rains, he started to feel major regret.

“It’s starting to cost us money. This is our retirement,” Thompson said. “We decided to move here to live and garden and get a couple part-time jobs and have fun for the rest of our lives. And now it seems crazy that we have to do all this work and can’t even enjoy ourselves yet.”

In May, after an especially snowy winter left much of the area under water, residents turned out at a borough assembly meeting to ask for action. Many talked about a lack of functioning roadside ditches, corrupted septic systems and flooded roads, and said the problem has existed since 2013. The area is a low swampland, and K-Beach road stifles drainage of water into Cook Inlet. Borough Mayor Peter Micciche explained it like this.

“A 16-mile dam was installed called Kalifornsky Beach Road. And there’s inadequate passage for water through that highway,” he said. “And when we have these high precipitation years, it starts backing up, and there’s nowhere for the water to go.”

At the May borough meeting, Micciche told the residents he was committed to solving the problem.

But Thompson said flooding last week cost him money and time. He listed the impacts in a letter to the borough, asking for action on the flooding.

“Sump pump, tank, PVC lines to exterior, weep line heaved up with tank, vapor barrier in crawl space, hot water tank submerged in water, well and pressure tank system submerged,” he said, listing off damages. “Water filtration system is under there, submerged. Septic system is unknown at this time. Our fence is collapsed, sinkholes around the house, miscellaneous household goods, additional still to be determined.”

He said he hasn’t done the total cost calculations, but a new water heater alone was $1,000 and he hasn’t been able to install it yet because there’s still standing water in the crawl space.

Thompson said he wants the borough to identify the nature of the drainage issue and do what they can to fix it before winter comes. He said he’s not necessarily looking for financial restitution, but there has been talk among neighbors about a class action lawsuit.

Micciche said, just last week, the borough was able to lower water levels by a foot in the ditch system through some parts of the neighborhood by draining them into a DOT reservoir.

“So we’re very happy with the progress,” he said. “Water can freely move through that particular neighborhood and into the DOT beaver pond.”

That’s phase one. But he said the Kenai Peninsula Borough is a second-class borough without flood control authority, so the long-term work of diverting water in the neighborhood will require the help of state and federal agencies, like the Department of Natural Resources and Army Corps of Engineers.

Micciche said phase two will require hiring an expert to assess the hydrology of the entire area and figuring out a way to get water across the highway and out to Cook Inlet. He said the focus going forward will be creating a management plan for when high precipitation years cause a destructive swelling of groundwater.

Less than a mile away, one of Thompson’s neighbors took matters into his own hands. A borough injunction, filed July 14, moves for a restraining order against a K-Beach-area resident who dug a two-mile-long trench through borough property to divert water. According to the complaint, those activities could cause flooding damage to other private properties, roads and utilities. The borough planning director assessed that if the canal were to fill with water and fail, it would release two million gallons of water into the surrounding properties.

Micciche said he’s committed to communicating with residents and taking action, despite the borough’s limited authority. And Robert Thompson said, for now, his life is on hold while he worries about the next round of flooding.