Nikiski soil treatment facility moves ahead

The facility, located at 52520 Kenai Spur Highway, has drawn ire from community residents.

Image via the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

Image via the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

The State of Alaska has approved an operations plan for a planned soil treatment facility in Nikiski that would treat soil contaminated with petroleum. The facility, located at 52520 Kenai Spur Highway, has drawn ire from community residents, who say the site is too close to residential areas and are concerned about risks to public health.

Soil Treatment Technologies, LLC submitted the operations plan to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in August, according to the department’s Division of Spill Prevention and Response. Following a public comment period held between Aug. 21 and Sept. 4, DEC issued a letter of approval on Nov. 11 that also outlined terms and conditions.

Conditions outlined in the letter of approval state that STT will retain financial responsibility for the project, that DEC can enter and inspect the facility “at any reasonable time” and that the approval can be withdrawn if soil isn’t processed to DEC’s satisfaction.

“If the owner or operator of an offsite or portable treatment facility fails to process the soil to the department’s satisfaction under the approved operations plan, the approval will be withdrawn, and that owner or operator may not accept, process, or receive contaminated soil,” the letter states.

DEC Public Information Officer Laura Achee told the Clarion earlier this year that the Nikiski facility would treat soil over two phases. The soil would be heated at high temperatures during the first phase, which would reduce contamination to below the state soil cleanup levels. The gases resulting from the first phase would then be treated by removing particles and destroying organic vapors as part of the second phase. Ultimately, treated soil could be reused or disposed of.

Many Nikiski residents voiced their concerns over the facility’s proximity to residential areas and Nikiski Middle-High School and potential risks to public health as STT worked to secure an air quality permit from the state for the project earlier this year. More than 50 public comments were submitted during that process, one of which came from STT explaining how they would work to safeguard public health.

The Nikiski facility, STT wrote, is designed to ensure that soil and groundwater are not impacted by the site and that soil transported to the facility will be moved in covered trucks to mitigate the spread of dust along roadways. Movement of soil to the facility must be approved by DEC.

Trucks carrying soil to the facility will be offloaded in a covered containment area onto an asphalt concrete pad that is petroleum-resistant and will be sloped toward a central area to collect any water runoff. The containment area will prevent water from rain and snowmelt from getting into the impacted soil and will prevent dust generation. Water collected will be treated, sampled and analyzed by DEC in an “approved laboratory,” with lab reports submitted to DEC as a way of verifying that the water is not impacted, STT wrote.

During the two-week public comment period for STT’s operations plan, which closed on Sept. 4, DEC received 29 public comments that voiced concerns about air quality, facility location and groundwater protection. Because concerns about air emissions were addressed under the air quality permit process earlier this year, DEC deferred concerns to the approved air quality permit.

Also submitted in response to the operations plan during the public comment period was a petition signed by more than 200 people that opposed the location of the facility and voiced concerns about adverse health effects posed to human health.

The petition and 19 public comments voiced concerns about the location of the facility, which DEC said ultimately does not fall under their control.

“There is no regulatory basis for the Contaminated Sites Program to require the facility to move from its proposed location or deny approval of the Operations Plan due to use of adjacent and nearby properties,” DEC said.

Community members also accused the department of having an inadequate public process as it relates to notification of the public and time allotted for public input. DEC outlined the timeline of approval, which included notices in the Clarion, notices on DEC’s website, an in-person inspection of the project site and a request for plan updates in response to public comments.

Still, some say the process has been biased in favor of STT.

“ADEC failed to conduct a meaningful public review process and issued the permit without regard or due consideration of the public health, safety, and property rights issues raised in the public comments,” wrote Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) Executive Director Pamela Miller in an op-ed that ran in the Clarion in September. “The process has been biased toward the applicant rather than the interests of the community and public health.”

DEC says they’ve worked to incorporate public feedback into the final plan.

“DEC requested changes to the Operations Plan from STT for comments received which identified issues under the regulatory purview of the Contaminated Sites Program,” DEC’s website on the project says. “The DEC Contaminated Sites Program has reviewed the revised plan to ensure that procedures are in place to protect human health, the environment, and Alaska’s natural resources.”

For example, the plan was updated to require that groundwater be tested once every 2,000 gallons of water processed instead of once every year.

State documentation also states the DEC Information Officer and Legislative Liaison Laura Achee met with State Rep. Ben Carpenter, who lives in and represents Nikiski, about the project. Carpenter, who lives in close proximity to the project site, is said to have expressed concerns about the project raised by the community.

“Staff confirmed for the Representative that self-reporting, scheduled inspections, and the ability to conduct unscheduled inspections are all in the permit documents or will be included as a condition of approval,” reads an email from Achee published by DEC.

Ultimately, DEC said there are measures in place to ensure the department is able to enforce the operations plan, such as facility inspections and the requirement that DEC approve all soil accepted at the facility.

“The DEC staff will review the information about the contaminated site or spill to ensure the contaminants present in the soil are limited to petroleum or petroleum constituents before approving the transport of contaminated soil to STT,” the department says on their project webpage.

More information about the facility can be found on DEC’s webpage for the project at dec.alaska.gov/spar/csp/stt-thermal-soil-remediation/.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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