Alaska Residents Battle River Erosion on Their Own

January 4, 2019

People living near the Mendenhall River, in Alaska, are addressing bank erosion on their own after a federal plan fell through.

At least eight Mendenhall Valley homeowners who live on Meander Way are pursuing some kind of solution to protect the river bank, the Juneau Empire reported. Plans by homeowners include the costly installation of netting and rocks – also known as riprap.

The erosion has worsened in recent years, largely because of glacial flooding from the Mendenhall Glacier.

Resident Norm Staton estimates he’ll pay up to $50,000 to shore up the riverbank near his home. He’s hoping to start a project with his neighbor in February. He believes everyone should be taking protective action as a group instead of doing it property by property.

“I was just hoping that I didn’t have to do this,” Staton said of tackling a project on his own.

Another resident, Nico Bus, had riprap installed a few years ago for $25,000. He said people are increasingly compelled to go through the state permitting process for work to stabilize the river bank.

“The mood is, we’ve got to get it done,” Bus said.

Earlier this year, Juneau officials had worked on an erosion solution with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service that would have proven even more expensive.

The plan was to combine federal and city funds with at least $78,000 from each homeowner to secure the shoreline for 26 area homes.

The deal fell through, however, in part because some residents balked at the cost commitment. In May, the Juneau Assembly rejected the plan by a 6-3 vote.

Assembly member Jesse Kiel, who voted in favor of the project, said he hopes affected residents can reach some kind of agreement and work together to solve the problem.

City Manager Rorie Watt said the federal program proved “too cumbersome and had too many strings.” He said he is glad residents are taking action.

Bus said most of his neighbors weren’t heartbroken when the government plan was rejected. The plan was set to a “very high standard,” which was making it expensive, he said.

“Now, people do it on their own, the feeling is that most people could do it for less than what the city and federal government would charge,” Bus said.

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