Dave Salter’s yard is, quite literally, falling into the ocean. He didn’t know it was going to happen so fast when he bought the place on Toyon Way in Kenai.
“The agent that showed us the property said, ‘Oh, a few inches a year,’” Salter recalled. “And being from Texas, I didn’t know any better.”
Fast forward 11 years.
“We’ve lost probably 15 feet,” he said. “And we’ve had to set back our fence. We used to have a fence that went all the way across. We had to take that down.”
This summer, contractors are building a wall in front of Salter’s 87-foot stretch of bluff, just north of where the city of Kenai is planning its own stabilization project.
Robert Peterkin co-owns Triangle Recycling and is working with Salter and his neighbors on the wall.
He said the $30,000 project isn’t a cure-all. But it could slow the erosion.
“Dave will still lose 10 more feet in the next 10 years,” Peterkin said. “I mean, he’ll still lose that. Now, eventually, our hope is to stop it, when the slope gets to be not so steep. But we’re slowing it way down.”
Homeowners on the bluff have taken their own approaches — or no approach at all — to bluff erosion.
The south beach, parallel to Kalifornsky Beach Road, boasts a patchwork of metal, wood and rock solutions to a problem that’s grown as winds and storms have intensified.
“The last couple years have been some really extreme storms,” Peterkin said. “We even had one early this spring.”
But there’s little protecting the bluff along the north beach. And it’s a part of the bluff that really could use protection. In some places, fences hang precariously over the edge.
Peterkin’s walls are made from layers of vertical and horizontal recycled drill pipe, which stick 20 feet into the ground. Pipes closer to the bluff are welded into place to keep them from moving.
There’s enough space so water can drain from behind the wall, and there will be rocks in front to act as a wave break.
He said the project will also make the slope less steep — and, therefore, more stable — because dirt from the bluff will fill in the space between the wall and the existing bluff.
Peterkin said he was inspired by Royce Roberts, a Kenai man who died last month. Roberts owned a pipe supplier company and built his own pipe wall, which withstood decades of storms.
Peterkin hopes his walls could last 50 years or more.
Last year, he built his first two on K-Beach Road. This summer, he’s going back and making adjustments as he fine-tunes the design.
“A lot of this, we’ll learn,” he said. “You know, we’ll come here next year and look at it and make sure it’s working. And we may have to make some adjustments. But we think it’s going to work well.”
As weather’s been worse, Peterkin said, he’s received more inquiries. Earlier this summer, he put other projects on hold to help a woman who lost part of her cabin over the edge.
Kenai is working on its own stabilization project, an effort decades in the making along 5,000 feet of quickly eroding bluff.
Peterkin used to be on the Kenai City Council. He said his project is on an entirely different scale from Kenai’s project
“They’re doing the million-dollar project and we’re doing the thousand-dollar project,” Peterkin said.
Kenai’s working with an engineering firm to design a berm to line the bottom of the bluff, between Cemetery Creek and Pacific Star Seafoods. That berm will likely be made from a combination of gravel and rock.
Salter’s project didn’t need any special permission from the city.
But, he said, it’s been a process. He had to buy the beachfront property because the owner didn’t want to deal with the construction. That took a while.
Now, it’s up to his neighbors to decide whether they want to build on their stretches of bluff, too. He said many are getting on board.
“My two neighbors on that side have already signed off,” he said. “The one here is in a transition stage of owners and the new owner says he’s going to do it. Which means the next one will probably do it. And then, farther down, most of those are probably going to do it.”
Peterkin estimates construction will be done in two weeks. After that, the only thing left to do is watch and wait.