The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Dock burn winds down


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Dark smoke rises from a fire on the morning of Jan. 10. The burn was sparked to dispose of material left over from the dismantling of the old "D" Float in the Seward Small Boat Harbor.

Against the backdrop of a short list of environmental headlines in the Seward area, a recent fire to dispose of material from a demolished floating dock appears to have generated little exposure for the City of Seward and the Alaska Railroad. Burn permittee and city dock demolition contractor West Construction/Orion Marine Contractors continues to be eyed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for its leading role in the blaze that generated complaints from residents over the amount and nature of smoke generated.

Complaints and photographic evidence submitted to ADEC were largely responsible for a reexamination of an application filed with the agency for a open burn permit including permission to generate black smoke. The application was originally passed over by ADEC in an self-admitted oversight, because the contractor omitted specific information about the material being burned. Permission to generate black smoke, which is generally produced from fires consuming materials that are toxic or that will produced toxic emissions, requires state and local permits. The applications are almost never approved, except for training of fire fighting personnel.

When the Seward Fire Department took a look at the Nov. 27 letter generated by ADEC washing its hands of the burn, local fire officials followed suit and issued a Jan. 9 burn permit based on a same day application from contractor West/Orion. Billowing dark smoke invited public attention later that morning as a large pile of debris was marshalled and fed by a front end loader. Based on submitted pictures and complaints from the public, ADEC called a halt to the disposal burn on Friday, Jan. 10 by contacting West/Orion.

In a Jan 24. letter from ADEC to West/Orion, the agency deemed that violations of state law had occurred and continued after the contractor was told to stop burning on Jan. 10. According to the letter, when explaining why the burning had been resumed on Jan. 11, West/Orion responded that "the local Fire Chief, Eddie Athey, had permitted the open burn to continue." This was after the contractor had "agreed to cease burning and indicated that any further debris would be disposed of at the local landfill."

According to SFD officials, the fire department was not contacted or notified of any stop order by either ADEC or West/Orion and, with a local burn permit in place, West/Orion personnel resumed burning the material on Jan. 11. At some point previous to the three days of disposal activity at the railyard, city employees from the Electrical Department and the Parks and Recreation Department dumped addition material onto the pile. Written explanations from the city claim that there was no contact between the city staff and contractor personnel.

West/Orion later trucked the material from the Seward railyard to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Landfill in Seward. In short order KPB's Solid Waste Department was notified of the dumping by local residents and soon ordered West/Orion to have the piles tested. The test results were clear across most categories of toxic substances. However diesel and residual range organics came back in the lower- to mid-range of allowances accepted by KPB which triggered special disposal requirements.

The testing was completed by Travis/Peterson Environmental Consulting based on a single representative sample and summarized in a Feb. 5 report by the firm and testing contractor SGS. A Feb. 7 letter from the Kenai Peninsula Borough approved disposal of about 12 tons of the burned waste in a hazardous waste pit at the Central Peninsula Landfill near Soldotna. Critics of the burn say that, since contamination was found in the ash, the Environmental Health division of ADEC may join the Air Quality division in mulling further punitive action.

According to city administration, city policies have since been adjusted to require direct managerial oversight for waste disposal by fire. ADEC management and SFD personnel have been working on lines of communications to ensure future coordination on issuing permits and monitoring open burns. However, administration expressed skepticism at Monday's city council meeting over whether ADEC has the necessary resources to adequately administer its wide ranging mandate.

Last month, ADEC served the City of Seward with a Notice of Violation for unrelated air quality non-compliance issues involving the Lowell Point wastewater treatment facility and lagoon. The notice lit a fire under the city's efforts to allot funds for an interim solution that will carry over until more funding can be secured for comprehensive dredging of the lagoon. City administration is working against a March 17 deadline to provide the state with an enforceable action plan that will get emissions at the facility under control.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been taking a new look at Seward Ship's Dry Dock. In a Jan. 16 letter the agency was demanding details on the drainage system used to dispose of waste water at SSDD's Seward Marine Industrial Center site across Resurrection Bay from Seward. The reappraisal was spurred on by an April 10 ADEC inspection report which uncovered new targets for investigation. In a recent conversation with The LOG, SSDD president Jim Pruitt said any concerns were unfounded.


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