Anchorage

Girdwood faces high costs to repair aftermath of record-breaking storm, official says

California Creek flood damage Ruane Road near the Girdwood Industrial Park

Officials in Girdwood are hoping for financial help to fix a series of roads damaged in a record-shattering storm that swept through Southcentral Alaska in the past week.

Girdwood saw more than 17 inches of rain at the base of Alyeska Resort by early Wednesday. Over the weekend, the town experienced a power outage, numerous trees or branches fell and some homes experienced basement or foundational flooding, Girdwood Fire and Rescue Chief Michelle Weston said.

Precipitation records have been shattered by the atmospheric river event this weekend with the base of Alyeska measuring...

Posted by US National Weather Service Anchorage Alaska on Sunday, October 31, 2021

About 20 feet of Ruane Road collapsed, leaving the town without access to the water treatment plant or garbage services. Several other roads sustained varying levels of damage, said Kyle Kelley, the Girdwood area service manager.

Repairs had been made throughout the week on other roads, but the fix for Ruane Road will involve a longer project, said Mike Edgington, a co-chair of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. Both a sewer line and a gas line were left exposed when the road collapsed.

“There are a couple of issues that are getting kind of pressing as far as time is concerned,” Edgington said. “A lot of people rely on the transfer plant to deal with trash and we still have bear activity around here. ... And the water treatment plant also only has capacity for about five or six days of storage of sludge, so they’ll need truck access as well by basically the weekend.”

For now, officials plan to install a temporary culvert, fill in the area and cover it with a recycled asphalt for the winter, according to Kelley. The work will hopefully be complete by the end of the weekend, weather permitting, Edgington said.

In the spring, a permanent repair will need to be made.

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Crow Creek Road Girdwood
California Creek flood damage Ruane Road near the Girdwood Industrial Park

Initial estimates for the temporary repairs after the storm put costs at roughly $400,000 to $450,000, Edgington said. That’s about 60% of what the town budgets annually for contract work on roads, he said.

Edgington said officials in Girdwood have been in contact with the Municipality of Anchorage about the repairs and were hoping a disaster declaration could help ease some of the costs.

“In terms of the impact, that’s a big chunk of change for our community,” he said. “Most of it gets reimbursed when the government makes a disaster declaration. But we are kind of dependent on that disaster declaration. Otherwise, it’s gonna be quite a lot of financial pain.”

Corey Allen Young, a spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, said Thursday evening that “it was determined that the situation could be stabilized without any declaration.”

Edgington said the town has some money saved that could cover the repairs, but that would leave them without any emergency funds for future situations. Additional information from the municipality about whether any financial assistance will be provided to Girdwood for storm recovery was not immediately available.

California Creek flood damage Ruane Road near the Girdwood Industrial Park

He believes that severe weather events, such as this flood, will happen with greater frequency going forward because of climate change.

“Within the last decade, we had a flood of similar size, and the fact that we’re seeing this frequency increase, I think it’s a wake-up call to everybody,” he said.

The storm set records across Southcentral Alaska, and the National Weather Service said the event classified as anywhere from a one-in-25-year-record to a one-in-1,000-year-record event.

At the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center by Portage Lake, more than 27 inches of rain fell. The area was the farthest north location in the country to receive consecutive days of more than 8 inches of rain, the weather service said.

Thousands were left without power on Sunday when trees downed lines throughout the region. And a landslide closed the Sterling Highway in both directions near Cooper Landing on Sunday and part of Monday. The road fully reopened Wednesday.

#SterlingHighway MP 50 UPDATE: We have completed repairs and are opening the road to two way traffic. Thank you for your...

Posted by Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities on Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Areas above about 2,500 feet were blanketed with snow, which Kelley said was a blessing. The snow line stopped additional liquid from flowing down the mountains and into the town, he said.

“We’re very fortunate that the conditions were just right like that,” he said.

There was more than 5 feet of snow by Thursday at Alyeska’s highest measuring point, the resort reported. Nearly 2 feet had fallen within the last 24 hours.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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