Fairbanks boaters are being warned away from the Chena River in the city. A logjam has completely filled the river from bank to bank at the Peger Road bridge. Officials are waiting for the river to drop.
Record rains at the beginning of August brought a lot of water into Interior rivers. The Chena crested on Sunday night through Monday with the gauge at Graehl Landing measuring almost 9 feet…with nearly 10,000 cubic feet per second of water moving by.
“A lot of the rivers are at flood stage, they are really close to the bridges, and it is not safe to go under that bridge right now.”
That’s Caitlin Frye with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. She says the bike and pedestrian path under the Peger Road bridge, and crews are monitoring the logjam that is up against the structure.
“When the water levels drop, and it gets low enough that we can safely put a boat in the water right there, then our bridge maintenance crew is going to get out there in a boat, and start cutting away logs on the downstream side, and let those logs loose to go down river.”
Frye says DOT crews regularly clear logjams in the region, when they threaten bridges and roads. She says she does not know of a time when a log jam took up the whole river.
Cam Leonard is president of the Fairbanks Paddlers club. He says experienced boaters know not to approach a log jam unless they know there is a clear channel.
“Whenever there is a question about a new logjam,” we pull over and do what’s called ‘scouting.” You get out of the boat and walk over and take a look and see if there is a safe passage. The real problem is when boaters fail to do that and they approach a logjam without knowing they can get through, and that can become a life-and-death situation very quickly.”
Leonard says one of the reasons for the Paddlers club is to teach river safety. They want to keep inexperienced boaters out of trouble, whether they paddle or are in motorboats. Deaths on the Chena River are frequent; nearly every year someone drowns, although it is usually alcohol-related and victims rarely wear life jackets.
“It’s usually the upper Chena where people have problems, but that is the biggest risk on the river is someone getting swept on to a logjam.
The Chena drains a watershed of 1,990 square miles.
Concessionaires have closed canoe and kayak rentals on the part of the river through town.
A historical note: The Chena River flood of 1967 was 18.82 feet on August 15th, 1967 with an estimated peak discharge of 74,400 cubic feet per second through Fairbanks, after 6.2 inches of rainfall.
Update on Wednesday, August 27, 2019: DOT contractors cleared the logjam: https://www.facebook.com/AlaskaDOTPF/videos/370424773859714/