At Monday night’s meeting, the Talkeetna Community Council received an update from Borough Emergency Manager Casey Cook regarding federal money for recovery from the fall 2012 flood. Cook also shared a new piece of information regarding the Talkeetna Flood Service Area that could have implications on future flood mitigation efforts. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:
If one were to choose a single word to describe funding for flood mitigation and recovery in the Upper Valley, a good choice would be “complicated.” With more than a dozen agencies involved from the borough to the federal level, it’s easy to get confused by the process. In short, after the fall 2012 flood was declared a disaster, the Upper Valley became eligible for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Actually getting that money, however, is a long process that involves mountains of paperwork.
The good news is that the process is moving along. Casey Cook, Emergency Manager for the Mat-Su Borough, says that disputes with FEMA over funding for the Talkeetna River revetment and the Yoder Road revetment and dike are over, meaning that paperwork can begin to receive funding for the repair of those structures. Casey Cook says there still may be some back-and-forth over dollar amounts once FEMA arrives at a repair estimate, however.
“So now, FEMA has to come up, and they’ll give their recommendation. Their engineer will say, ‘During the floods, this amount of damage happened. This is how much it will cost to repair it. Do you, the borough agree with this?’ Which, I’m pretty sure we’ll say no, because it won’t be enough, so we’ll send it back with our recommendations.”
While recovery money from FEMA is moving forward, the borough now has to look for ways to fund future flood control efforts. During the process of working through its options, Cook says the borough came to the realization that East Talkeetna is not currently covered by the borough’s flood service area. Unless that changes, he says it will impact what mitigation can take place in the future to protect the area east of the railroad tracks. Casey Cook makes it clear that recovery money from the 2012 flood is not affected by the service area status, but potential future work done by the borough is.
“For us to do anything in the water–underneath high water line–you need to have a special service area. So, if East Talkeetna doesn’t have a special service area, the borough isn’t going to spend any money, any time, anything, to protect something that we’re going to be held liable for.”
Inclusion in the flood service area would involve a change to property taxes in East Talkeetna. Currently, the mill rate for the west side of the tracks is slightly higher than on the east side because of the flood service area. While the additional funds would not make a significant impact in being able to do flood control work, the designation as a flood service area would be necessary for the borough to upkeep or establish any additional flood control along the Talkeetna River upstream of the current revetment.
Representatives from the state and FEMA were in Talkeetna last Monday to look at the revetment, but were unable to see the lower part of the structure, partially due to the high water event the previous week. A representative of the Army Corps of Engineers assessed the Talkeetna revetment last year, but also ran into visibility issues due to high water. Casey Cook says that the borough now has the 2013 report, but that it may not provide much help in making a case to FEMA that the revetment was damaged below the waterline.
“It’s not very supportive to say that there was damage done in the 2012 flood, because his process was to say, ‘I can’t see it, because it was underwater.'”
It also bears mentioning that the borough was delayed in getting the Corps’ report due to the fact that the representative who made it is no longer there. Additionally, the FEMA representative who saw the revetment first hand will no longer be working the case after this Friday.
Casey Cook says that the FEMA recovery funding that is currently in the works will only be used to restore the revetment to its pre-flood state. Expanding or improving the revetment could involve the Army Corps of Engineers agreeing to conduct a study to change the role of the structure.
“So, that dike was never meant as an anti-flood structure; it’s been a bank stabilization structure. So, part of that study will be, ‘OK, we need to change it from a bank stabilization structure to a flood/erosion protection measure.'”
Casey Cook says the borough has approached the Army Corps of Engineers about conducting that study on what additional measures may be needed. The Corps says that it cannot give a definitive answer on whether or not it will conduct the study until the next budget becomes available. Until and unless that study is done, or the borough receives other funding to make flood control improvements, Upper Valley residents will be anxiously watching the river gauges every time the water starts to rise.