The neighborhood south and east of Kalifornsky Beach Road, separated from Cook Inlet by the highway, has struggled with surface and groundwater flooding for over a decade. For one resident, ongoing frustrations with the borough and fears about flooding led him to dig a canal, which the Kenai Peninsula Borough took legal action against this summer.
For several months, K-Beach residents have spoken out at borough assembly meetings about the impacts of flooding to their homes, properties and septic systems. Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said K-Beach Road acts like a dam, keeping water in the neighborhood and impacting homes and properties.
“Like everything around here, K-Beach went from a trail to a gravel road to a modern highway. As that transition is taking place, I’m not sure anyone recognizes the overall impact,” Micciche said. “But we’re at the point in the evolution where we understand that inadequate passage of water is becoming a long-term problem.”
Resident Dave Yragui took the flooding problem into his own hands, digging an unpermitted canal that crossed borough property. The borough filed a cease and desist in September and a Notice to Stop Work in November. The state Department of Natural Resources filed another cease and desist in June. On July 14, the borough filed a lawsuit, seeking a restraining order and injunction against Yragui to make him stop work on the canal.
In the lawsuit, the borough planning director assesses that the ditch could release 2 million gallons of water into the neighborhood, causing widespread property damage.
Micciche said he was reluctant to take legal action, and wants to maintain a collaborative approach to the issue going forward. But he said the digging was straightforwardly illegal and eventually the borough had to step in.
“Well, it’s simply not legal to excavate on public lands without a permit. And it’s not legal to convey more than 5,000 gallons of water a day, period,” Micciche said. “What the injunction does is tells that individual to stop. Let’s work together, let’s make sure the right experts are involved. But you simply can’t take it into your own hands.”
Yragui, on the other hand, sees his efforts as a favor to his neighbors. He’s spent more than a decade tracking flooding in his neighborhood, working with a hydrologist to figure out the best solution, and occasionally using his heavy machinery to move land.
In 2013, flooding in the neighborhood led to a disaster declaration and $1.26 million in federal relief. In 2014, Yragui threatened the borough with a lawsuit, asking it to take action on the flooding. He owns hundreds of acres, including a ranch, airpark and undeveloped residential subdivision.
“I’ve been working on it steadily. Nothing’s changed. Except we’re much more aware of the impact on people’s residences now,” he said.
Yragui has been perpetually frustrated with what he sees as inadequate and inconsistent action from borough and state entities when it comes to the flooding issue.
“This is a borough-maintained road. They’re supposed to have a ditch that can [drain] water to the inlet or the river. Well, they didn’t do it. And it’s been 10 years,” he said.
Yragui excavated a ditch along Eastway Road to hold floodwater. He said, as a plumber, he was concerned about how flooding could impact his property and his neighbors’. When he was hit with the first cease and desist last fall, he said he didn’t accept the premise.
“When we flooded here on the ranch, when Eastway Road started flooding, I didn’t have any problems going out there. All of the borough’s B.S. goes out the window. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “In a flooding situation, the community has a right to protect themselves.”
In the spring, he widened the ditch. The injunction was filed in July, but Yragui said he has no intention of backing down. He wants someone from the borough to listen to his ideas and take his solutions seriously. In response to the injunction, he filed an affidavit in objection to the borough’s claims and is considering filing a lawsuit of his own. The case is still waiting on a ruling.
Micciche said the borough has made progress this summer on lowering some water in the area and plans to work with state agencies and an independent hydrologist on a long-term solution. At its meeting this week, the Borough Assembly will consider an ordinance from the mayor to set aside $175,000 for a study about solutions to the flooding problem.
He emphasized his goal of a collaborative approach.
“I hope we can do it as a team, not two different sides. We know we want the same objective — we want people to be successful on their property in the K-Beach area,” he said. “And the only way to do that is to work together.”
Yragui is also taking collaborative steps, with other K-Beach residents. He’s bringing the neighborhood together to discuss mutual experiences and solutions at a community meeting, planned for 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.