Juneau leaders declare local emergency after record flooding

a pillow and other debris washed on a rocky beach
Debris lies along the shore of Douglas Island on Aug. 7, 2023 following record-breaking flooding on the Mendenhall River. (Andrés Javier Camacho/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly approved a local disaster declaration Monday night after this weekend’s record flooding in the Mendenhall Valley

The declaration requests funding from the state and, if needed, the federal government. It also allows the city to pay for services related to the cleanup without following the city’s purchasing code, which prioritizes getting the best price possible.

“A local emergency declaration allows us to procure goods and services faster if necessary,” said Deputy City Manager Robert Barr.

The city has condemned eight buildings, displacing about 20 households. It’s not clear yet how many are permanently displaced and how many might be able to return home.

While most of the damage was to private property, some city property is also in need of repair. Three of the city’s lift stations were totally submerged, which stopped sewer service to nearby homes. All three are back up and running, though one still needs additional repairs. Vacuum trucks have been removing silt from storm drains.

In an interview, Barr said the state or federal government can either give public assistance – which refunds the city’s costs to repair things like water treatment systems and roads – or individual assistance, which would go directly to homeowners.

He said homeowners should take photos and save their receipts as they begin repair and cleanup work, just in case they become eligible for individual assistance. 

The city is also letting property owners shore up their land without getting a permit first, though they ask that homeowners notify the Community Development Department as soon as possible. Homeowners will still need to apply for permits within a month after starting the work.

And city officials said Monday night that property owners whose homes were damaged or lost may be eligible for a property reassessment, which could result in a lower tax bill for this year. Homeowners can contact the assessor’s office at (907) 586-5215 ext. 4906 or Assessor.Office@juneau.gov to begin that process.

Meanwhile, homeowners and volunteers have been picking up building material, furniture and other debris from the flooding. Katie Koester, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said city officials are still working to improve waste disposal options. The landfill is only open to residents from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, but Koester said the city is working with Waste Management to try to extend the hours.

“One of the challenges that they have, of course, is staffing,” she said. “They also want to make sure that there’s no hazardous waste in the materials.”

Koester said the Coast Guard has been looking for oil sheens from lost fuel tanks and other debris. She said “homeowners have done a great job in reporting directly” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation if they see a spill or loose fuel tank. That hotline number is 1-800-478-9300.

Koester said the Salvation Army has food boxes ready for affected families. Residents who’ve been displaced because of the flooding can contact floodresponse@juneau.gov about shelter and other resources.

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