Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Matanuska River erosion draws action

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Some 80 feet of property at the back door of Forrest Blubaugh’s house near Sutton has washed away recently in the Matanuska River.

Borough officials with emergency services, code compliance, public works, and planning departments have been monitoring the erosion and coordinating with community members. Educating newcomers about the hazards of the destructive river and helping existing property owners along the river has been the ongoing work of the Borough.

On Monday, Blubaugh’s daughter called the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Borough called the Sutton Community Council to check on Blubaugh, whose home is north of mile 63 on the Glenn Highway. That spurred Community Council President George Rauscher to rally 24 volunteers with Eagle Crest Ministries to help move property from the yard away from the river.

A woodshed had already slipped into the embankment-scouring water, but Rauscher and his group managed to save more than three of the eight chords of wood. Wednesday night they returned to move Blubaugh’s furniture.

Farther south, the Maud Road revetment or rock embankment is eroding in the Butte area. It was put in years ago by the state. The Butte Fire Department has been contacting residents to alert them to the erosion, and public works has been monitoring the erosion.

In Sutton some of Blubaugh’s yard that the staff walked on Monday has since washed away. At one point the Matanuska River was carving out three feet a day from the riverbanks, Rauscher said. 

Sutton Assembly Member Lynne Woods said it is very sad to see someone losing their home to the river. “I hope the Matanuska River Management Plan provides a vehicle to help our residents who live along the river,” Woods said.

The Matanuska River Management Plan goes before the Borough Planning Commission on Aug. 16. “One of the goals of the plan is to look for more funds for relocation,” said Borough Planner Frankie Barker.

In 2007, the Borough lined up $500,000 in state and federal funds to buy out three properties near Sutton. But such funds are hard to find. In Sutton there are some 20 buildings that are between the Glenn Highway and the Matanuska River, some of them at risk.

At times the wide, braided riverbed appears too big for its water supply. But come summer the glacial river is swollen with snowmelt and loaded with sediment that scours riverbanks and carves out new channels. This July has been especially wet with rain in the MAT-SU. “It felt like the tropics last night, the rain came down in sheets,” Woods said in Sutton, Thursday night.

Over the years, the Matanuska River has traveled back and forth from one side of the riverbed to the other. Some in the area bought when the river was at least a half a mile away on the south side of the riverbed.

A mapping study is nearly complete that has mapped the erosion risk areas on the Matanuska River. The Borough matched $500,000 with the U.S. Geological Survey’s $500,000 for the study.

“This will show people when they come in to build and ask for a land use permit where erosion risk areas are,” Barker said.

Barker says it’s often not the distance from water but the soils on which something is built that matter. For instance, bedrock is okay.

Barker also is to credit for convincing the Alaska Real Estate Commission two years ago to add a question on erosion to the disclosure document so people who are buying property will be made aware of erosion risk.

The Matanuska is a state river. A rigorous state and federal permit process are required to build in it, and the establishment of a community service area is required before the Borough can undertake any construction in the river. And the effort is expensive. The last dike cost some $580,000.

Farther south along the Matanuska River in the Butte, property owners in Circle View & Stampede Estates, ten years ago, organized themselves into a community service area, added a mill to their property taxes, and worked with the Borough to find funding for the five dikes in the river near their homes. In June the last dollars of a grant were put into buying heavy armour rock to reinforce dike five. There’s no erosion trouble this year for Circle View.

“Circle View is a success story, showing how the commitment of neighbors to work together can mitigate a natural hazard,” Barker said.

Photos by Frankie Barker/MSB.



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