Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Haines Assembly misses Army Corps public comment deadline


March 12, 2020 | View PDF

The Haines Borough is asking the federal government to halt interim plans for in-place remediation for contaminated soil at 15 Mile on the Haines Highway.

Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers detailed a proposal for cleaning up soil contaminated in 1968 by a 33,000-gallon fuel leak from the Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline. The proposal included plans to remove contaminated earth from either side of the highway near 15 Mile and use a combination of in-place treatment techniques to reduce the remaining contamination under the road.

The proposal also suggested landfarming near 24 Mile as an alternative to shipping the soil to the Lower 48. The process involves spreading contaminated soil in an 18-inch thick layer and promoting microbe growth that would remove the contaminants naturally, said Will Mangano, an Army Corps environmental engineer. During the estimated two years it would take to clean, engineers would plow and aerate the soil and take samples over time to ensure the contaminants are being removed and not moving deeper into the soil.

The Army Corps said their plan is in its preliminary stages, with public comments accepted through March 6.

The assembly missed the deadline when its Feb. 25 meeting was canceled due to weather.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel said the assembly should still consider submitting comments even though the deadline had passed.

Last month, public facilities director Ed Coffland drafted a memo to the assembly outlining his stance on the project. At their meeting on March 10, the assembly voted unanimously to direct borough staff to submit a letter based on Coffland’s recommendations.

Coffland’s memo says that doing nothing would be preferable to the Army Corps’ interim remediation plan. At the meeting Coffland said leaving contaminated soil under the highway will leave potential for water-contamination issues. If the Army Corps’ proposal doesn’t solve the problem, why bother to do it, he said.

If the Army Corps moves forward with a remediation plan, the borough should require the removal of all contaminated material, including material under the road, Coffland said. He said the proposed location for the Army Corps’ land farm “is at the upper end of and partially on a constructed salmon spawning channel. Land farming would threaten the integrity of the spawning channel. (The Army Corps) has considered other sites, but the best solution for the borough is bagging soil and shipping to a disposal facility in Oregon.”

Assembly member Gabe Thomas said he shared Coffland’s and the fishing community’s stance against land farming and in favor of shipping out contaminated soil. He asked if a letter supporting a “do nothing approach” would let the Army Corps off the hook for future remediation efforts. Coffland said this was not the case.

Assembly member Zephyr Sincerny said he would prefer submitting comments requesting the Army Corps remove all contaminated soil and ship it out of state, rather than giving them the option of doing nothing.

Army Corps engineers who presented plans last month said remediating the soil in the community is a more cost effective and more environmentally friendly method than barging it out of town.

“I haven’t heard anyone suggest that doing nothing would be the responsible thing to do there,” Takshanuk Watershed Council executive director Derek Poinsette said. If nothing changes, contaminated material will continue to slowly enter the Chilkat River slough. Poinsette said the best option would be to remove all the contaminated material, and the second best option would be the Army Corps’ interim remediation proposal. To do nothing would be the worst option, he said.

Borough staff will submit the letter, but Schnabel said there is no guarantee comments submitted after the deadline will be recognized.


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