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Nenana River waters calming; Parks Highway repairs under way

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Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:32 am | Updated: 11:31 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The raging Nenana River began to settle down Monday as Department of Transportation workers continued to repair erosion damage that reduced the Parks Highway near Denali National Park and Preserve to just one lane for the better part of three days.

The highway was reopened to two-lane traffic after crews made emergency repairs to a washout the river caused at 240 Mile of the 360-mile highway between Fairbanks and Anchorage.

The road had been reduced to one-lane traffic at 240 Mile since Saturday after heavy rain the previous two days south of the Alaska Range caused the Nenana River to rise dramatically and begin eating away at a section of road that parallels the river just north of McKinley Village. DOT crews finished up emergency repairs on Monday and will now focus on permanent repairs, agency spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said.

The eroded river bank must be rebuilt and fortified, the guard rail that was ripped up must be replaced and new pavement must be laid on portions of the road.

“Our goal is to have permanent repairs done by winter,” Bailey said.

Water levels in the Nenana River, which reached a record level during the weekend, started to fall Sunday night and a flood warning for the river upstream of the Rex Bridge was canceled. But a flood warning was still in effect from the Rex Bridge to the Tanana River at Nenana.

Some low areas along the Nenana River in the city of Nenana were flooded on Sunday, but the river began dropping Sunday night and things were drying out Monday, Nenana Mayor Jason Mayrand said. On Sunday, up to 1 foot of water was reported on 10th Avenue, which is the access road to the Nenana River boat launch, and the road to the cemetery was flooded. By Monday, the water had dropped and the roads were dry, Mayrand said. No homes were flooded.

“The roads are starting to dry out,” he said. “There’s a lot of standing water around.”

The Tanana River at Nenana and Fairbanks, meanwhile, was still running at more than twice its normal height and flow on Monday, though it had started to drop, said Jim Brader with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. The reason for the surge in the Tanana River, which is on the north side of the Alaska Range, isn’t exactly clear, he said.

“It’s obviously not glacier melt because it was too cool,” Brader said. “The (north side of the Alaska Range) should have been in the chinook shadow, but there must have been some spill over right over the top that caused some heavy rain.”

Further south, DOT crews were still working to repair a washout at 118 Mile of the 135-mile Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxson. The road has been closed since Friday.

The Alaska Railroad, meanwhile, was hoping to resume traffic to and from Fairbanks soon. The railroad has been closed to train traffic north of Wasilla since Friday because of a major washout that left 500 feet of track dangling about 35 miles north of Talkeetna.

Crews made better-than-expected progress in repairing damage to the track and were hoping to have repairs completed sometime this afternoon or evening, barring additional flood damage, according to a press release from the railroad.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.

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