JBER neighbors blame work on tank trails for spring flooding

mtheriault@adn.comMay 15, 2013 

The flood of spring 2013 began in the backyards of Vigor Circle as a lake large enough to attract ducks.

By Sunday the water became a torrent, gushing across the metal fence that separates the homes of the Chugach Foothills neighborhood from tens of thousands of acres of military land at the base of the mountains.

"You could have kayaked down it," said Beth Scott, a retired Chugiak High School history teacher who has lived in a handsome home that presses up against the boundary of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for 23 years. "It was like whitewater."

The JBER neighbors say they never had problems with flooding until 2006 or 2007, when culverts altered during construction of a tank trail on base land changed the flow of natural creeks. They say the military should do something about the culverts, which they believe clog when frozen and divert water directly at homes.

"I think it's (the military's) negligence," Scott said. "I'm paying $5,000 for a problem that's not my fault."

The military disagrees.

"This housing area is in a natural watershed area," base spokeswoman Erin Eaton said on Wednesday. "Nothing the Army has done to the adjoining land has exacerbated the problem."

Surface water from melting snow naturally flows in the direction of the homes, she said. She said she couldn't speak directly to questions about changes made to culverts on base land.

According to a FEMA flood hazard map on the city's Public Works department page, the subdivision is not in a 100-year or 500-year floodplain.

On Wednesday, Scott and her next-door neighbor stood comparing damage to their homes.

Pilot Luke Martyn had a pickup truck bed full of sodden carpet and insulation. He estimated the damage to his home at between $5,000-$10,000. Scott said she owed at least $5,000 to a crew of water damage specialists parked in her driveway.

Carla Jo Fargo's home on Witherspoon Circle flooded in 2009. Since then, she and her neighbors have invested in nine sump pumps between the two households.

But pumps and sandbags couldn't hold off the water this year.

Five or six houses have sustained flood damage, Fargo said.

Fargo, who owns a housecleaning business, had recently cautiously remodeled her basement.

"The whole downstairs is flooded," she said. "We have to pull up flooring, sheetrock, carpet, possibly treat for black mold."

City Public Works department workers came by to offer sandbags and pumps, said Dan Southard, a public works superintendent.

"We're not going to stand by and watch somebody's house flood," he said.

Living in the area is usually a pleasure, neighbors say.

There's abundant trail access and a backyard wilderness that many use to walk their dogs or hike. Homeowners say that past tensions between the neighborhood and base have largely been resolved.

"They are really good neighbors," Frost said. "They allow us to hike out there, they are really good people. It's just this one issue."

The next step is to set up a meeting with JBER officials.

"We need a long-term fix here," she said. "We can't continue to deal like this."


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.



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