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Kenai hopeful that federal funds will make decades-long plan a reality

Dave Salter and Robert Peterkin examine a stretch of bluff by Salter's home in Kenai last summer, up the beach from the proposed stabilization site. (Photo by: Sabine Poux/KDLL)
Sabine Poux
/
KDLL
Dave Salter and Robert Peterkin examine a stretch of bluff by Salter's home in Kenai last summer, up the beach from the proposed stabilization site.

As the City of Kenai waited for the pieces of its stabilization project to fall into place, property owners watched more and more of the bluff fall into the river.

Now, the city said a large boost from the federal government brings it closer than ever to addressing the problem. Alaska’s congressional delegation announced Wednesday that the city is on the receiving end of $28 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

"This was the biggest hurdle we had in front of us and now we’ve overcome that," said City Manager Paul Ostrander.

The money will finance the bulk of the design and construction on the project, designed to stop a stretch of the Kenai bluff from falling into the Kenai river.

That stretch of bluff, spanning 5,000 feet in Old Town Kenai, is losing approximately three feet to the river each year. The city has planned for decades to construct a berm at its foot to preempt further erosion from waves and storms — estimated to cost between $30 and $35 million.

To match the contribution from the feds, the city has to come up with a match of 35 percent.

Ostrander said the city already has about $4 million from the state to meet that match. And Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy budgeted for a $6.5 million capital bond for the project in his new budget.

“It’s very, very close," Ostrander said.

Advocates say the project could boost the local economy. Entrepreneurs might feel more comfortable planting their businesses in Old Town Kenai if they know the bluff is stable.

Those who are already in Old Town say it’s a great thing, too.

The Kenai Senior Center is right on the stretch of bluff that will be stabilized. Executive Director Kathy Romain said the erosion has not gone unnoticed since the center opened its main building in 1983 and its independent living units a decade later.

“The way we’ve noticed over the years if you can tell the amount of trees that have fallen over the bluff," Romain said. "It definitely looks different than it did 25 years ago.”

But she said the location of the center is important, with its sweeping views of Cook Inlet.

Kenai plans to stabilize a section of bluff perched above the Kenai River that loses an estimated three feet each year.

CREDIT CITY OF KENAI

“The seniors of Kenai were the ones who picked where they wanted this to go," Romain said. "And so this is the property they wanted. And so the city gave it to them all those years ago.”

She said it's great that the building could remain safe without the center having to change location.

Ostrander said he was elated when he heard about the $28 million early Wednesday morning.

“It’s been an amazing day," he said. "It’s a great way to start my Wednesday, for sure. And really the general excitement at the city is high today.”

Kenai is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the project. Ostrander said it’s in the design phase, which is slated to finish up mid-year 2022.

He said construction will likely start next year.