Mat-Su Borough holds town hall on Willow Creek flood

Mat-Su Borough Water Rescue, Animal Care and Willow Fire Department bring stranded pets to safety after Willow Creek jumped its banks Dec. 21, 2019. (Stefan Hinman/Matanuska-Susitna Borough)

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough held a town hall meeting in Willow Thursday night to address questions and concerns about the continuing flooding situation near Willow Creek. 

Just a few days before Christmas, the Willow Fire Department received a late-night call: Willow Creek was flooding due to an ice jam, and people needed help. Mat-Su Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley explained the response to that call.

“They responded to the first call, which was water flowing through the house and people trapped,” he said. “The water rescue team also responded. We did get to the house, and we did get the people out.”

That first night, seven people were evacuated. In the following days, emergency responders and the borough’s water rescue team responded to many more calls. In addition to human lives, Barkley says emergency personnel were able to save dogs, ferrets and a parrot from the rising water in addition to making 18 round trips to assist those in need of food and supplies.

Barkley offered praise to fire departments throughout the borough who responded, as well as volunteer groups like the Willow Community Emergency Response Team and the Red Cross. He had particular praise for the borough’s water rescue group, which worked long, frigid hours through the holidays.

“They had two days off in two weeks, and that was Christmas and New Year’s.  That’s the only two days they were off.  Other than that, they were here doing all the work, all the shuttling — 18 below, in the water, walking through and helping people out.”

In addition to rescue and supply aid, the borough has been working to restore access over the Deneki Bridge. Borough Manager John Moosey says work was proceeding on keeping water off the bridge until a 60-degree temperature swing, from -20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, significantly changed the situation and hampered further efforts.

“So, we have been presented, today, another plan, which we are calling ‘Plan B,’ that will allow us to do some more ditching and get into the actual river, cut through, and cut through some ice…and get that flow,” Moosey said.

That work will be done with excavators pulling ice directly from the creek channel.  Borough Operations and Maintenance Director Jim Jenson says the various permits needed to do that work are in progress, and he expects them to be approved soon.  He says three-quarters of the road has been cleared of floodwater, but the situation remains dangerous for motorists.

“It’s quasi-passable, but it’s not for small vehicles at all,” he said. “I know some of you have been coming out in your trucks. I’ve driven a borough rig back in there, but we’re still having issues with that 90 [degree turn] down there by the [Deneki] Bridge and the water coming out, right there.”

The Q&A session of the meeting featured a mix of praise for first responders and criticism of borough officials for lack of timely information to those living in the area.  Borough Emergency Manager Casey Cook says two lines remain open, and that part of the borough’s debrief from the flood will be on how to better disseminate necessary information.

Deneki Bridge across Willow Creek surrounded by ice Dec. 22, 2019. (Stefan Hinman/Matanuska-Susitna Borough)