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State Transportation Department Considers Diverting Delta River from Flooded Roadway

Tim Ellis/KUAC

The state Transportation Department hopes to resume work soon on a dike off the Delta River near Big Delta to divert floodwater that’s flooded nearly a mile of the Old Richardson Highway. No one’s been injured, but the flooding north of Delta Junction has swamped at least a couple of homes and cut off access to several others.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the Delta River first jumped its banks and cut a new channel into a stretch of the Old Rich called Spengler Road. Now there’s about a foot-and-a-half of water flowing over the roadway and spreading out into nearby low-lying areas. And it’s made life difficult for those who live in the dozen or so homes in the immediate area.

“There’s about four to six homes that are cut off, as you can see from the road, but there’s also another half-dozen homes that have flooding right up to their backyard, flooding through their property, causing property damage to them, as well,” says Delta Junction Fire Chief Tony White. The chief was patrolling the area Tuesday, along with three firefighters from Fort Greely Fire Department, to assess the damage.

“There’s a few residences that’ve had severe water damage – basement flooding, damage to outbuildings on their property, and stuff like that,” he said.

A couple of those residences belong to Jon Carpenter, who along with his family had to evacuate back on July 10 as rising floodwaters tore through his driveway, cutting off access to his home and his son’s, both of which are located next to an old airstrip.

“There’s water around my house,” Carpenter said,” and then the kids are on the other end of the runway. They have a trailer house, and they had water up to the first step.”

Credit Jake Baugh/Civil Air Patrol
The runoff-swollen Delta River, visible in background, cut a new channel through the eastern bank of the riverbed earlier this month, flooding an area just south of Big Delta, including a nearly mile-long stretch of Spengler Road.

The Delta River is running high due to greater-than-normal rainfall combined with meltoff from last winter’s heavy snowpack and from the eastern Alaska Range’s glaciers. The runoff-swollen river cut a new channel to the east of the riverbed near Big Delta and into an area that a state Transportation Department official says is prone to flooding.

“It eroded through its banks there and now it’s kind of re-established a channel there that may have been present historically,” says Jason Sakalaskas, chief of DOT’s Northern Region office in Fairbanks.

Sakalaskas says that stretch of the Old Rich and several others were built decades ago along riverbanks, because they’re relatively flat and easy to build on. But because some of those areas are flood-prone, the department built new stretches of the Richardson Highway in safer areas.

“We relocated the existing (Richardson Highway) up onto higher ground, and also just for alignment, too, with regards to straightened out and a little more safer to travel,” he said.

Sakalaskas says the department is now bringing in rock and other fill material to rebuild a washed-out road just south of the flooded area that had served as a dike to deflect the flow of water away from the new channel.

“Doing that will in theory shut off some of the water flowing across Spengler Road,” he said.

Sakalaskas says if that works and the rain slacks off and upper-elevation meltoff slows, the river level should drop enough to allow DOT to evaluate damage to the roadway and fix it. Carpenter says he, too, plans to wait ’til then to get back onto his property to assess his damage.

“And I don’t really see that happening for another month or two,” Carpenter said Wednesday. “Cold weather and no rain – that’s what we’re praying for.”


Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.