The city of Kenai’s decades-long effort to stop the Kenai River bluff erosion that’s eating away an average three feet a year of valuable Old Town property reached a milestone this week. By Monday, the city and Army Corps of Engineers will have signed a preconstruction engineering and design agreement.
City manager Paul Ostrander said that’s cause for celebration.
“Big news on the bluff erosion project, absolutely,” he said.
The agreement begins the design phase of the project, which should take about a year.
“That planning phase, which, like I said, is 30 days following the singing of the PED agreement by the district commander, is key in outlining what, exactly, it’s going to look like,” Ostrander said.
Project costs will be split 65 percent from the federal government and 35 percent from the city. But the city is fronting the estimated $1 million cost of the design phase, with grant money from the state.
“In the case of the design, to push this thing along, we committed to funding 100 percent of that design,” he said. “However, in the agreement, it specifically states that when we move, and if we move, to construction that that 65 percent that we're paying for in the design will be reimbursed by federal dollars.”
How big of an “if” is it that the project will actually move to construction? Ostrander said it’s not a complicated project — just armoring the toe of the bluff with riprap. But it’ll come with a big price tag — $25 million to $40 million.
“The real lift that we have left is getting the Corps to commit to funding the construction of the project. Every year they fund certain projects,” Ostrander said. “We’ve been on the list for the last two years. The hope is that with a shovel-ready design, that will provide us a better opportunity to get the funding for construction itself.”
Ostrander said they’ll be leaning on Alaska’s congressional delegation for help convincing the Corps it’s time to fund Kenai’s project. The city is also going to have to convince Kenai voters, as the city will need a bond to cover its 35 percent obligation.
“I just want to reiterate how critically important this is for the city,” he said. “Capital investment in Old Town Kenai has been nonexistent for several decades. If we’re able to stabilize this bluff through this project, that will encourage folks to invest capital in that area of the city that people have been — and rightfully so — hesitant to do for decades.”
If the Corps decides to fund Kenai’s project next year, construction could potentially begin as early as spring 2022.