Roads turn to rivers

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 19:00
Brief flood hits Eagle River Valley
Water runs down Prudhoe Bay Avenue after a culvert was blocked by debris caused by heavy runoff on Thursday, May 30. Municipal crews eventually unblocked the pipe and returned the flooded creek to its normal flow.

Christie Holshouser was doing some spring yard work outside her home the morning of March 30 when she began to hear something unusual.

“All the sudden I start hearing water,” Holshouser said.

Bears and moose are usually the talk of the neighborhood this time of year, but on this particular Thursday, things were about to get messy. There’s a small creek that runs behind Holshouser’s house on Kogru Place off of Prudhoe Bay Avenue in the Eagle River Valley, but the sound wasn’t coming from the creek. Instead, it was coming from the road itself.

As Holshouser watched in amazement, what began as a small trickle of water quickly turned into a deluge as Kogru and another nearby street, Eklund Avenue, became roaring rivers within minutes.

“It was actually running faster here than in the creek,” she said, pointing to the still-wet road, which was littered with rocks from the brief inundation.

The source of the problem, it turned out, was a combination of bad luck and warm weather just up the hillside from Holshouser. There’s a culvert that runs beneath Prudhoe Bay Avenue to divert water running off the steep hillside. Normally, the culvert takes water underneath Prudhoe Bay and dumps it into the creek behind Holshouser’s house. But according to officials, the culvert became plugged with debris, sending overflow water pouring down Prudhoe Bay, Kogru and Eklund.

Pete Pandres lives just downhill from Holshouser on Prudhoe Bay. He said the water tore out chunks of asphalt from his driveway.

“This was roaring here for a while,” he said. “The road was about to float away.”

And there’s more. Eagle River Street Maintenance foreman Mark Littlefield said when crews arrived with a backhoe to try to unclog the culvert, they hit a gas line running beneath the road. That caused the creek to begin boiling from the gas rising to the surface.

“There’s been a lot going on,” Littlefield said while overseeing crews trying to sort out the situation.

As he spoke, a heavy equipment operator continued digging in the boiling creek, trying to open up a hole in the pipe to allow water to flow normally. After several attempts to reach the buried culvert, municipal crews finally got the water back in its channel Thursday afternoon and the flood waters receded. The gas line was repaired later that day and things returned pretty much to normal, Littlefield said Monday, June 3.

“We got the roads all fixed and the driveways back in shape,” he said.

The problem hasn’t yet been completely solved. Littlefield said the muni is currently using a smaller pipe to divert water under the road, and will need to fix the original pipe once the spring melt water subsides.

“We’ve got to wait until the water stops until we do a permanent fix,” he said.

By Thursday afternoon, the only evidence of the short-lived flood were the rocks and gravel scattered over the rapidly-drying road surface.

Christie Holshouser said the event gave neighbors something to talk about other than the area’s notorious bears and moose, which are regular visitors to residents’ yards.

“It’s a lot of excitement for the neighborhood,” she said.

Her neighbor, Pete Pandres, said he’d prefer to stick to dealing with wildlife — not whitewater — in his yard.

“This is the kind of excitement you don’t want,” he said.

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