City works with state and Army Corps to battle erosion on the spit
The Homer Spit’s future as an iconic tourist attraction is in danger of washing away. Erosion along the spit’s sea walls is not a new problem. City officials are working with state and federal agencies to find a lasting solution.
Driving onto the four-mile-long Homer Spit, you’ll notice a majority of the Sterling Highway is shielded by boulders. But as you approach the numerous restaurants and businesses that attract thousands of tourists here each year, that shield against erosion.
In their place are crude barriers made of chain-link fence and rocks. They were an apparent futile attempt by the owner of a privately-owned campground to prevent the soil above the beach from washing away.
“Got some cleanup work to do, don’t we?” Harbor Master Bryan Hawkins said as he walked onto the beach. “You can see some over here. They didn’t hold up.”
Hawkins points to an old utility pole just about 100 feet off of the road that RVs and campers used to plug into.
“That was the ground elevation where those boxes are – what is that, probably 10 feet or so of beach elevation that has dropped in this area,” he said.
Erosion on the spit is nothing new, but both winter and spring storms are increasingly washing away soil along the road as the beach wears down. A spring storm this year washed away another nearby campground owned by the city, which has since been filled in with sand.
The city’s short-term solution to battling this problem is to rebuild the beach using dredge materials from the Homer Harbor.
“We average between 8,000 and 14,000 cubic yards a year of dredge materials and a good portion of that or all of that could be put back into the system,” Hawkins explained. “Probably try to get as much into the system as we could to begin with to start the process.”
That idea came out of a meeting the city called with state transportation officials and the Army Corps of Engineers last month. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office also got involved.
Julie Anderson with the Army Corps office in Anchorage said there are some hurdles to clear before the city can move forward.
“So we have to go through an environmental permitting process and also a contract modification with our contractor to do that work,” she said. “So these are proposed actions from that meeting and we're just starting those processes.”
DOT is also hiring a private consultant to assess the right-of-way on either side of the Sterling Highway.
DOT’s Todd Vanhove said the state will use their recommendations to design a project to protect the right-of-way only, which could include more large rocks along the road or other erosion prevention methods.
“We use another method when we get closer down toward some of the more congested areas. We would trench down and fill the trench with the similar rock, but then cover it back up with sand so that it would be there in place but not visible,” he explained. “Then the beach would still be usable.”
There’s no set timeline for any project. But the city is hoping to address the issue soon because the spit is a hub for commerce. It’s home to U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hickory, the Homer Harbor and the state dock used by the ferry Tustumena, connecting Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands to the mainland.
“We are a port community. So of course protecting the highway and the port and access is our highest priority,” Hawkins said.
He adds that the next step in protecting the spit is for the city, state and federal officials to craft a long-term erosion prevention plan.