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Mat-Su Borough seeks fed money to buy flood-prone homes

By Alexis Fernandez Photojournalist: John Thain - 8:48 PM July 9, 2014
ANCHORAGE –

For decades, residents in the Butte area have been dealing with ongoing flooding. The Matanuska River has been unforgiving, chewing at its banks and at times, taking homes with it.

Amir Lena has called Butte home for seven years. He lives along the Matanuska River, where he runs a family business.

“I love it here, to live and to build a future, like I started. I want to be at the end of my life here,” Lena said.

But over the past few years, his view of the river has been changing.

“There was like 30 feet of road here between the dike and the trees and now it’s gone,” he said.

His home is just one of several between Mile 13 and 15 of the Old Glenn Highway being slowly washed away.

More than 20 years ago, the state built a 3,000-foot dike along the east side of the Matanuska River to help protect against flooding and erosion. Now, only two-thirds of the dike remains and it’s still washing away.

So far, the river has swallowed about 750 feet of land.

Lena believes something could’ve been done to prevent this from happening.

“When I moved here they told me they’re going to maintain it, they told us … Borough maintains the dike and the state, where they are? Nowhere,” he said.

But Dennis Brodigan, director of emergency services with the Mat-Su Borough, says there’s not much he can do.

“We can’t get into the water, can’t do anything in the water, both because of the volume number one. Number two, because of the legality of it. We don’t have the right to come and do anything with this water,” he said.

Brodigan says only the state has authority — and all it can do is put a Band-Aid on the problem.

“It’s a terrible situation to be in,” he said.

He says some neighborhoods have formed erosion service areas. Homeowners can tax themselves in order to build their own dikes instead of waiting for assistance. Butte decided to opt out.

Brodigan says it’s too dangerous to continue having homes near the river. That’s why borough officials are in the process of applying for a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help buy out nearly 30 homes in areas prone to flooding.

“The endgame solution is not to keep throwing money at it year after year, losing the battle to Mother Nature, but to just get the people out of the area,” he said.

Although that reality could be years away, residents like Lena are already preparing to move before nature decides for them.

“We’re going to move if we have to,” he said.

The borough is expecting to complete their application by next spring and hopes to have a have an answer from FEMA by summer.

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