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Nikiski monofill questioned

Residents express concerns over proposed site

Posted: July 19, 2012 - 8:45am
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Brian Smith
Residents listen to a presentation about AIMM Technologies’ proposal to build a drilling waste monofill in Nikiski on Tuesday at the Nikiski Recreation Community Center.

Nikiski resident Loretta Brail had several heated questions for representatives of an oil and gas support services company during a public meeting Tuesday evening.

Chief among her concerns was who would be responsible if the company's proposal to build a drilling waste landfill in the heart of Nikiski were to fail.

Who would guarantee contaminates wouldn't get into the area's drinking water and who would be responsible for the health of the residents that lived there, she wondered.

"The bottom line is that is a residential area and you are working with the state," she said. "There is state land available, there are non-resident areas available. ... Find a state facility you can go to and get ... out of here. We don't want you."

Brail was one of more than 100 residents who packed the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Tuesday evening to hear a presentation on AIMM Technologies' proposal to build a monofill designed to hold 15,000 tons per year of drilling waste and 1,000 tons per year of nonhazardous hydrocarbon contaminated soil in Nikiski near the end of Bakers Road. A monofill is a landfill intended only for a single type of waste.

AIMM is a Texas-based company with a North Kenai office. The meeting was hosted by Brooks Bradford Jr., AIMM's president.

Residents asked a number of questions about the company's intent, proposal, how a nearby contaminated site would affect the proposal, the durability of equipment used to contain the wastes and what the consequences would be if that equipment were to fail. AIMM said it organized the meeting to dispel rumors and myths circulating in the community about the project. The state is still mulling whether or not to issue AIMM a permit for the proposal.

Bradford said AIMM chose the site because it wanted to build in an industrial area off the main road system and near the drilling industry hub of North Kenai or Nikiski. AIMM also chose the site because of the natural depression in the land there and because it had already been excavated as a gravel pit, he said.

Accepted materials from Cook Inlet drilling operations would be a mixture of buzz cuttings, hydrocarbons, water sand and mixtures produced from drilling as well as non hazardous contaminated soils, Bradford said.

"We are not accepting regulated hazardous waste or PCBs, period," Bradford said. "No exceptions."

PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyl.

Bradford also spoke about the liner the company would use and how it would cap the facility using three feet of gravel and topsoil to leave it as open, undeveloped land, he said.

"They are compatible with drilling mud including hydrocarbons," he said of the double liner system that would be installed with a leak detection system. "The estimated life on these is 200 to 750 years when they are buried, so they are very, very stable."

AIMM will conduct monthly visual monitoring after the site is closed and annual groundwater testing in the summer for a minimum of five years, per state regulations. Bradford noted AIMM's employees take their environmental responsibility seriously.

"If any inappropriate waste is found, AIMM will immediately notify ADEC and we'll get the problem corrected," he said. "AIMM prides itself on its history of safety and environmental compliance."

Karen McGahan drew cheers and applause from the audience when she addressed Bradford.

"Having been a business owner I know why you are here -- it is to dilute the opposition because you want to make a profit and that's understandable," she said. "That's the American way and I'm all for that. However, you want to make a profit, you don't want to pay what the borough is asking ... so I would suggest that even though it would cost you more, with all the state land there is around here, if the state is in favor of this permit, put it on state land and build a road."

Said Richard McGahan, "What's really bugging me is if this is not hazardous then why in the world are you going through all of this ... to put in liners and bury and cover and all these (water) wells? If that is not hazardous materials, why don't you just dump it out right on the ground right at the drill site?"

Bradford said the company is simply following the regulations they need to follow and that ultimately AIMM is responsible for what it puts into the ground.

Tony Jackson asked Bradford a series of questions, but ended on a point about the liner AIMM will use to contain the waste.

"That plastic thing you held up and said that was the liner that ... scares (the heck) out of me because that might be good for a few years, but you are talking in 50 years my kids and grandkids are going to be around here," he said. "That's not going to be safe enough. That's not a barrier -- that's a joke."

Said Bradford, "This liner is the standard and it has a very good success rate."

Jackson said that standard is "not good enough for this community."

"The vast majority of landfills in the United States use this, including the borough as well," Bradford said.

Myron McGahan, who has property and a home located adjacent to the AIMM proposed site, asked AIMM officials why they couldn't find another way to dispose of the drilling waste. He said the "people of Nikiski have spoken and they don't want this in their backyard."

"Where are you from sir?" he asked Bradford. "Are you from Texas or are you from Alaska? Are you a resident of Nikiski, Alaska? I'm a third generation resident of Nikiski, Alaska. You are not from here. How can you say that this is the best for our community? Why aren't you looking at more responsible ways to deal with your waste stream?"

Steve Chamberlain, owner of Charlie's Pizza, asked several questions about the depth of the water wells drilled for testing at the AIMM site and about potential contamination spreading from the Arness septage site.

The Arness site has a long history of oil waste contamination and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation staff has reported it is unsure of the extent of groundwater contaminates as they were never properly monitored. The ground water flows southwest from the Arness site to the AIMM site, but AIMM has previously said it has not found similar levels of contaminates in its ground water wells.

However, on Tuesday, AIMM said those test wells are 50 to 85 feet deep. Oil contaminates have been found at 125 feet deep up gradient of the Arness site on land owned by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

"The only well on the Arness septage for testing is 125 feet deep and it is contaminated with chlorinated solvents," Chamberlain said. "Their wells are 50 to 80 feet. Wake up."

Phil Stallings, a geologist with Weston Solutions out of Anchorage, explained that there are two sources of groundwater in the area and the lower aquifer was contained and wouldn't "mingle" with the upper water. Stallings said there is a confining layer -- perhaps clay -- between the two water sources.

Residents asked several questions about how the monofill might affect or further exacerbate the Arness contaminates. Stallings said water diversion caused by the AIMM monofill likely wouldn't affect it.

"The water and snow that falls on that area will be diverted around that perimeter and it will re-infiltrate back into the ground," he said. "It is just like a tree -- the sun shines down and it would be like a shadow under the landfill where that water wouldn't percolate."

Chamberlain said he suspected there was already contamination below the AIMM test wells and asked Bradford why AIMM wouldn't drill one to that depth.

"On our site we have met the requirements of where we need to be," Bradford said.

Said Chamberlain, "Don't give up the fight, people."

Several residents asked DEC representatives in the crowd about holding another meeting, one hosted by the state. DEC solid waste program coordinator Lori Aldrich said such a meeting was not being considered but would not be an opportunity for residents to interact with state staff. Rather such a meeting would serve to gather comments to be entered into the proposal's record and those would have the same weight as written comments.

"The (reason) why you are concerned is most important," Aldrich said. "Getting a lot of the same comment doesn't have any impact, doesn't have any more impact than getting the comment once."

Written comments are being accepted on AIMM's proposal through 5 p.m. on Aug. 10. Comments can be mailed to: Nathaniel Emery, ADEC, Solid Waste Program, 555 Cordova Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501. Fax: 907-269-7600; email: nathaniel.emery@alaska.gov. More information on AIMM's proposal can be found at http://dec.alaska.gov/eh/sw/index.htm in the right-hand column.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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