Bridge Could Be Viable Replacement For Flood-Prone Chester Creek Culvert

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Residents who live along Chester Creek near Valley of the Moon Park in Anchorage have been requesting a fix for a flooding culvert for years.

This week at the Anchorage Assembly meeting city officials said they’re working to replace the culvert with a bridge, but residents worry it won’t come quick enough.

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On a cold December morning earlier this year, retired school teacher Leah Hoffman, peered into her crawl space to find Chester creek literally right below her floorboards.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

“Well, I have three sump pumps,” she said.

Hoffman lives in a small one level home just off Arctic Boulevard near downtown. She lifts the trap door in her bedroom floor to show me how high the water got.

“How much water was down here?” Hoffman said. “For the first flood, it probably came up to about three feet, I suppose.”

Hoffman has lived in her house since 1970. She’s about 30 feet from the Chester Creek. She says her house didn’t flood until the nearby bike path was built in the 70s.

Hoffman remembers a resident of the neighborhood going to the Assembly about a big flood that happened back in 1989.

“And they said, well it probably won’t happen for another 50 years but we’re going to do a study on it and find out if we can redesign it in some way,” Hoffman said. “And I think that was the last we heard about it until the next flood and they again they assured us that they we’re going to try do something about it – and they did.”

“In ’09 they did put two little culverts up and that’s helped a little bit.”

Just down the street, Jen Clark lives with her family in a 60s-style split-level home that now has a musty odor from the flooding. She remembers when she noticed the water was coming in.

“It was Tuesday, December 3rd. I was getting the kids up for school. Sent me daughter down to the basement to feed the cat. She stepped in about four inches of freezing cold water,” Clark said. “It was about four inches deep over the entire 1,500 square feet down here.”

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Clark called her neighbors, family and the city for help.

Her home is set much further back from the creek than Hoffman’s, but when the culvert backs up, ground water floods in through a drain in her furnace room.

City workers eventually unclogged the culvert and the water started receding, Clark spent much of the day using a broom to push water back down the drain.

“And I did that all day. That night my brother and some friends came with a sump pump and we continued with the wet dry vac. And the next day coworkers and friends brought a big drier and some fans and we just cranked it up in here,” Clark said. “It was like a hundred degrees down here when we tried to go to bed that night just to try to dry it out and save all the insulation that we just installed.”

Clark says her family has lost thousands of dollars worth of belongings that they’ve slowly been carting off the dump.

The lower level of her home has flooded two out of five years since they bought the home in 2008.

Recently, she testified before the Anchorage Assembly with about a dozen neighbors standing behind her. The main thing they’re asking for is a new bridge to replace the problematic culverts.

Anchorage City Manager George Vakalis said the city is asking the State Legislature for $2 million to replace the bridge as part of its 2014 legislative request and plans to study the ice problem in the new year.

Clark just took out flood insurance.

Back at Hoffman’s house she doesn’t have any flood insurance, but she’s looking into it. She’s relying on her sump pumps which constantly push water out through a pipe into her back yard.

She says she hopes after years of flooding, the city will finally correct the problem.

“We’re hoping now that the Assembly will listen to us and instead of just studying and redesigning they’re going to do something,” Hoffman said.

But whether the funding to build the bridge comes through depends largely on what legislators in Juneau decide. And the city has a long list of higher priority projects.

Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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