Flooding creates new ‘lakefront property’

At the south end of Birch Street in Anchor Point, water covers the gravel street’s intersection with Ester Avenue. At the north end, survey stakes outline the course a ditch is being constructed to create a route for water to flow north toward an existing stream. On Tuesday, heavy equipment was at work on that ditch.

Relief couldn’t come soon enough, however, for Courtney Goesch, 93, whose “lakefront property” at the intersection of Birch and Ester is almost surrounded by water.

“I hate to say it, but they’re stupid,” said Goesch of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area’s plan to reverse the direction of water determined to find its way to lower ground. “You can’t make water go uphill.”

Recent rains have saturated the ground north of the area in which Goesch lives and turned Ester Avenue into a dam, causing the water to flood around homes on either side of the intersection.

Pat Malone, director of the borough’s road service area, visited the residential neighborhood last week and met with a local road inspector, a surveyor and a construction contractor to develop a method for diverting the water. Having secured a drainage easement from Patsy Coleman, a property owner who lives out of state, Malone’s plan is to create a 1,200-foot channel to the north by linking new and existing ditches.

“The contractor started a little later than I thought he was going to,” said Malone on Tuesday. “He should make the corner today and I’m hoping by tomorrow, Thursday at the latest, to connect those ditches and, basically, stem the flow of water to the intersection. That’s the plan.”

In addition, Malone said there are “a couple of other things I want to do there besides that ditch that will choke off the water supplying that intersection.” 

Once he can divert the water, he’ll consider installing a culvert under Ester, “but I want to make sure we have the water coming from the north to a minimum. I don’t want the culvert to end up being the main drain. That’s what’s happening now, focusing a whole lot of water in that direction.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a culvert has been installed under Ester. Goesch, who has lived at this location for seven years, remembers when a culvert used to help water find its way south. When homeowners complained that basements and crawl spaces of their residences south of the intersection were flooding, the culvert was removed.

Last month, when rain began causing water to back up at the Ester-Birch intersection, Goesch’s friends and neighbors installed a pump to decrease the flooding. They pumped the water to the south side of Ester, which was good for Goesch, but not good for those living to the south.

“People below complained, so they took it out,” said Goesch of the pump’s removal.  

In the past three months, the soaked ground has forced Goesch to have his septic tank pumped three times. His calls to the Kenai Peninsula Borough, asking for help, have “run up quite a phone bill,” he said. 

Around Goesch’s house, the water is three feet deep in places. On the other side of Birch, the top of a Homer Electric Association junction box can barely be seen above the water.

“We are aware to that situation and are keeping an eye on it,” said HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher. “The equipment is waterproof, but we definitely don’t want it to be covered up by water.”

While it’s hoped the channel will ease some of the flooding, “I don’t think it will eliminate it. Trying to ditch water and make it go somewhere is really difficult,” said Malone. Between now and next spring, he hopes to develop a plan to improve drainage in the area south of Ester. 

As the road service area director, a job Malone has had since November 2012, his role is to safeguard borough roads, not homes. With the water submerging the Ester-Birch intersection and water beginning to run across Ester, the need to take action has become a priority. If it helps Goesch and others who live in the area, so much the better.

“I don’t want to sound callous because I’m not, but my function is to make sure we have functional roads that are passable,” said Malone. “If I can mitigate other problems along the way, I’m happy to do so.”

Aware of past flooding in nearby neighborhoods, Malone is eager to “do no harm. I don’t want to just take a problem and relocate it.”

Sitting in the kitchen of what Goesch calls his “cottage by the lake,” he also knows from past experience that, if not done correctly, moving the water out of his yard would cause problems for others.

“I think I have a little more serious problem right now, though, because I’m the one in the water,” he said.

The National Weather Service forecast called for sunshine mid-week, with rain returning for the weekend. That’s not good news for Goesch, his neighbors or Malone.

“I just don’t think this will work,” said Goesch of the plan to route the water to the north. “The whole thing comes back down to one item, putting a culvert in.” 

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.