Is Mat-Su Dam Dangerous?
WASILLA - The State of Alaska is trying to force a landowner in the Mat-Su Borough to fix or remove a dam that was built by the previous owner.
There are conflicting views about whether the dam is a threat to public safety.
"There's no hazard,” says landowner Sherry Lowrey. “It's ridiculous."
Sherry Lowrey say she and her husband are probably going to resist an order by the Department of Natural Resources to remove this dam or install a larger culvert on their property just off of Knik River Road.
The 26-foot-high dam, built in the 1980s by the previous owner, was not on their title when they purchased the acreage, she says.
"I don't know whether the initial owner of the property didn't give them the right measurements, or what, because at that time he was told he didn't even have to have a permit. So, but they are saying now, if it's over 20 feet, we have to do something about it."
The state's dam safety engineer, Charles Cobb, says he sympathizes with the Lowreys, but just to a point.
"My perspective is, if you buy a piece of property, you're responsible for any development that's on that property. Any improvements would be the responsibility of the property owner."
DNR's attention to the dam was drawn by a neighbor downhill, Nancy Bryan.
Bryan declined to go on camera but said she and her husband fear for their lives if the dam breached in a storm.
Cobb says there are structural problems. "The culvert under the dam is under-sized and inadequate of passing the potential stream flows, and in that case it could back up water during a storm event, or it could become plugged, and if it does become plugged and backs up, then yes it does represent a threat to the property down stream."
But Lowrey points out: "You know, in the last 30 years it hasn't. I know we've had at least one hundred-year storm."
Lowrey says her husband, a civil engineer, is inclined to fight DNR.
At this point, I think we're just going to give it to the attorneys. It'll probably cost us as much in attorney's fees as what it would to just take it out. But I think he kind of looks at it as we shouldn't be forced to clean up something someone else did -- that we didn't initiate it in the first place."
Cobb says failure to comply with DNR’s order would be a grade a misdemeanor, punishable by fines.
He has given the Lowreys until July 18 to explain how they intend to proceed.