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

By Fern Greenbank
LOG Editor 

City council approves contract for lagoon dredging


There was movement toward resolution of the sewage lagoon problems at Lowell Point when the city council voted Monday to sign off on a contract for sludge removal with Merrell Bros. Inc.

The contract is for almost $4 million, the lowest bid received by the city. For the first time, Lowell Point residents were able to hear and see the person they hope can help salvage their tourism businesses and get their lives back to normal.

Dustin Smith, project manager with Merrell Bros. Inc., headquartered in Indiana, was on hand to answer council questions and explain his company’s processes and limitations. Smith said there are two factors that prohibit the company from committing to an early start date: weather and permits.

Lowell Point residents and some council members have expressed concern about the timeframe allotted for the dredging process. The bid package gave contractors a window for completion dates but no later than June 15. Lowell Point residents begin their tourism season as early as April and May and are concerned the construction and odor will derail their businesses for the second year in a row.

“Our equipment can’t perform in temperatures below freezing,” said Smith. “We can have our equipment up here in advance and go ahead if the temperature is above freezing.”

Merrell Bros. has to ship its equipment from the Lower 48 and has to get a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation for distribution of sludge on land outside the city limits.

Smith was asked about his company’s ability to help with odor control as council decided at its special work session two weeks ago to ask the contractor for additional services related to the lagoon smell.

“We can deal with the biosolids but when it comes to raw water coming in, we would not be able to do that,” said Smith. “We would be able to work with another contractor for that.”

In addition to odor issues, the contractor was asked about potential damage to the lagoon liner or walls collapsing during the dredging process.

“We don’t foresee that happening,” said W.C. Casey, Seward’s director of public works.

Also in the good news category is the hiring of a project manager to closely supervise the project. Rich Wise, who works with the National Park Service in Denali, has accepted the job and is expected to report for duty soon.

The council vote to approve the contract did take a turn at one point during the council meeting when the motion was made to postpone the awarding of the contract for two weeks so additional research could be done. That motion, made by Councilwoman Ristine Casagranda, was due in part to information brought to council about other products and methods for controlling odor and reducing the amount of sludge in the lagoon.

Scott Ogen of Seldovia Bay Trading Company, offered reading material to council about a product he is selling that can reportedly reduce the amount of sludge in wastewater lagoons. The product, one of many suggested to city administrators and council, may complement the dredging process and may be used in the future as a maintenance tool, but the lagoon still has to be dredged, said city administrators.

The city’s attorney, William Earnhart, said the city could find itself in hot water if the council did not approve the contract as bid and decided to change course using different technology and a different contractor.

“Because there has been no complaint with the bid process, and no new discovery, and if we are looking at a re-bid, we would likely be subject to a dispute,” said Earnhart. “It has always been anticipated the sludge removal would be separate from other measures.”

Casagranda reiterated that she was not asking for the process to stop or re-bid for the sludge removal. She said postponing for two weeks would give them a chance to look into additional measures that could make the process move faster because the completion date of June 15 still made it likely that odor could exist when Lowell Point tourism starts.

“I’m going to vote no for the contract, and I’m not voting out of fear,” said Casagranda.

Casagranda was referring to comments made during citizen comment period by Lowell Point resident and business owner Lynda Paquette.

Paquette asked the council to vote with their minds and from their heart and not out of fear. She suggested the council take pause and consider the products and technology available that could speed up the process.

Co-owner of Millers Landing in Lowell Point, Tom Miller, said most of their early season tourists are Alaskans. It is those Alaskans, he says, that help sell Lowell Point to others. The dredging will be occurring when those important tourists are booked and he’s worried about that.

The timeframe, says Assistant Manager Ron Long, was set based on the entire process from preparing the Request for Proposals to receiving the bids to selecting the contractor then considering the permit process, temperatures, availability of equipment shipped from most contractor headquarters in the Lower 48 and that brought the timeframe to June 15. At this point, little can be done about changing the dates as the contractors properly bid on the guidelines they were given by the city.

“I was glad to hear them [Merrell Bros.] say they were willing to work with another contractor,” said Long. “But, any other type of product that shows a demonstrated time savings to work hand in hand with the dredging process,” said Long, “would have to considered in terms of both budget and the existing contract with Merrell Bros.”

“When we put out the request for proposals,” said Long, “we asked for just that, proposals, and we were open to all kinds of ideas and methods. The bids we received all called for dredging because of the type of lagoon issues we were facing.”

Council was advised that nothing in the Merrell Bros. contract precludes them from entertaining other methods for either reducing the sludge amount thereby speeding up the dredging or for reducing the odor now and during the dredging.

When the vote was taken, the motion to postpone for further research failed and the motion to approve the contract with Merrell Bros. for dredging was approved.

Now, Smith will intensify the efforts to get proper permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation, a process that will require time for public comment and could take up to 90 days for approval if no obstacles or concerns arise. Long said Merrell Bros. has been permitted for the same type of sludge relocation in other states with no problems.


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