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The images and video contained in thsi presentation show the excavation of the Arness Septage Site in Nikiski where thousands of gallons of oil, chlorinated solvents and other industry wastes were dumped in pits, a large septage pipe and a 21 tank system.

Coming Clean: What remains out of sight

Decades later, questions, allegations, pollutants remain at Nikiski oil waste site

Posted: December 16, 2012 - 10:17pm  |  Updated: December 26, 2012 - 9:55am
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The Arness Septage Site in Nikiski is shown here from the air in September 1985. The site was contaminated with thousands of gallons of oil and other industry wastes, but Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation staff think the resulting groundwater contamination has not been properly monitored or defined.  Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation file photo
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation file photo
The Arness Septage Site in Nikiski is shown here from the air in September 1985. The site was contaminated with thousands of gallons of oil and other industry wastes, but Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation staff think the resulting groundwater contamination has not been properly monitored or defined.

Editor’s note: This is the first part in a weeklong series examining the history and current status of a contaminated site in Nikiski.

 

Down a gravel road in the heart of Nikiski rests a piece of property named the Arness Septage Site.

What visitors to the site see looks like a benign piece of land, but what is soaked into the ground has some Nikiski residents fearing for their health, state environmental officials asking for more testing, two brothers defending their family name and a community asking just what exactly happened.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation officials have a good, but not complete, understanding of what was dumped there in the early 1980s — at least 4,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste, sludge and other pollutants — but no one knows the extent of the pollution plume left behind.

The site hasn’t been properly monitored, according to DEC field staff, and has sat languishing for decades. When asked how much risk the Arness site poses to the many area residents who rely on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water, DEC Engineer Paul Horwath, an employee since 1985, answers as best he can.

“Nobody knows,” Horwath said.

Recently, the Arness site has come under the microscope due to its proximity to a controversial proposal to build a monofill for oil and gas exploration drilling waste on property a stone’s throw away.

“When I was a little boy I went down that road to that septage site,” said Nikiski resident Myron McGahan, who now lives with his wife and family near the Arness site. “We were little kids on our three-wheelers then and we were dipping these big sticks in it. I remember to this day pulling goo out. Literally like an oily goo.”

Two underground sewer systems used to dispose of wastewater, oil and other hazardous industry chemicals were excavated from the ground in 1988 and the polluted soils were spread on the surface of the land in an attempt to mitigate damage done, according to state records.

But the site was never properly addressed according to DEC standards, Horwath said, and the resulting potential for groundwater contamination has never been defined.

In a 2004 email, Horwath wrote to one of his supervisors that there is “no other project site under our oversight more deserving of the completion of a site assessment due to the potential this site has to negatively impact human health through ingestion of contaminated groundwater.”

However, progress on the site has been stalled for more than a decade. In files at the DEC’s Soldotna office, prior staff wrote efforts were dogged by delays, lack of funding and lack of cooperation between DEC and the land’s owner, Jim Arness, now deceased.

The man who admitted to dumping the waste — Dave Brown — was never charged with a crime, slipped the state border and left Arness to clean up the site, according to DEC records. In his later years, Arness refused to cooperate with DEC, its staff wrote. Eventually Arness blamed DEC staff for introducing the contaminates and constantly changing their stance on what was to be done at the site.

Horwath, who was previously assigned to be the site’s project manager, typed out his explanation about why the site is an anomaly in a state contaminated sites online database. He said DEC staff was “thwarted due to political consideration by politically-appointed administrators within ADEC management” and further alleged the Arness family used political ties to influence how DEC sought to mitigate the site.

Arness’ two sons, Joe and Jim, are stuck to tend to the two, 10-acre parcels now owned by their 87-year-old mother Peggy. They say the claim of political consideration is offensive and untrue.

“For that to show up on this website is disgusting,” said the 61-year-old Joe Arness.

DEC officials who said Horwath’s allegations were not pertinent deleted what he wrote several months after it was entered and within moments of the Peninsula Clarion conducting interviews with staff about the site. DEC administration said they were investigating those claims, but details were not made available.

When concerned Nikiski resident Steve Chamberlain talks about his knowledge of the site he becomes visibly agitated.

“We need a big team with a lawyer — we don’t have what it takes,” he said. “A lot of times we might be reaching. It might sound like a conspiracy theory … coming from both of us, Myron and I, but I think we have enough evidence to show there is a serious problem. … There is obvious collusion and cover-up. Why would they delete (Horwath’s notes)?”

Horwath said the way the site was handled is “contrary” to the way other sites are handled by DEC “by regulation, by policy and by guidance.”

“This is atypical,” Horwath said in a summer interview with the Clarion. “There were repetitive efforts to complete the site assessment here and we were not provided funds to do that.

“We were never given the green light to complete the site assessment.”

 

Coming Clean: An investigation into the Arness septage site will continue Tuesday with an article looking into the history of the site from permitting to excavation and remediation.

Part 2: Clouded history at Nikiski site 

■ ■ ■

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

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robert white
378
Points
robert white 12/17/12 - 11:08 am
1
1

Arness septage

I just read the DEC report and there doesn't seem to be a big problem with ground water. I am though, suspicious of anything Myron gets involved with!!!

Jason D
4
Points
Jason D 12/17/12 - 12:44 pm
2
1

Arness septage

I have not read the DEC repor, so I dont know much about the ground water. However, I am suspicious of anything that Robert White comments on!!!!!

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 12/17/12 - 12:57 pm
2
0

Concrete ? 12/17/12

Many moons ago in a Land Far Away.Soldotna Y Early 80's
There was a underground waste oil storage tank that had been leaking toxic oil waste for years. No One was aware of that Leak until a Inspection occured just before the Sale of the Property. Well needless to say The S_ _ _ Hit the Fan
over that Toxic Leak.$Millions$ of dollars to seal those exposed materials into 55 gallon drums then shipped all the way to Washington State & a Toxic Waste Dump.

Alternate Solution was decided upon by the Owners of the Property & the D E C & E P A. Dig up all of the exposed material then Batch that material into CONCRETE.

Everyone on the Job Site wore HazMat Suits. We looked like a bunch of Yellow Chickens pecking around in a Chicken Farm.
That contamined material was batched into Rock Hard Solid Concrete. Problem solved ! no more leaking toxic fluids.

The Concrete Slab around that business is 8ft to 12ft Thick in some locations & there forever.
Worked there for a entire Summer of Davis Bacon Wages$

Perhaps that could be a Possible Solution for the Arness Site
in Nikiski ? Worth a Look See don't ya think ?

SPW in Slooooooowdotna

Norseman
2530
Points
Norseman 12/17/12 - 01:59 pm
1
0

We need to stop trashing our

We need to stop trashing our spaceship......

Watchman on the Wall
2893
Points
Watchman on the Wall 12/17/12 - 02:18 pm
1
1

Pop the lids

Want to find some of the missing people on the Kenai from long ago? Pop the lids and test the contents and as a gambler of old i would bet you find some surprizes in those barrels. Or not.
I love speculating and supposes, don't you?
Wildwood has the same history of dumping, Soldotna, Creek Park has the same history from the old DOT, thats why the Fake Holiday tree was planted there. Many other places out north and on Swanson River Fields land, even Sterling area has major contaminants from oil and other related leaks from dumping stations. Then there is the contamenants on the Alaska Chain Islands from WWII. Basically we are the dump of the world and oil related chemicals are everywhere state wide, pcb's and more.
And Pebble Mines thinks we are still STUPID and believe that they mean well and no harm will come to Alaska from their copper mine. Why do ya think that 2 out of 3 people that go to CPGH are from out north and we have such a high rate of cancer and other related illnesses here on the Kenai?

normolson
321
Points
normolson 12/17/12 - 05:00 pm
2
0

An effective way to kill children

Why wait around for some gunman to storm a Nikiski school when the toxic chemical seeping into our ground water will do the job just as effectively...and the benefit will be that the murderers will never be apprehended or prosecuted.

And to think that folks around Nikiski were worried about the militia! We're here and perhaps we'll be needed to face down the chemical dump trucks.

Hey folks, they're poisoning our children. Hellllllooo, anyone awake out there!? We demand an immediate independent non-political assessment of the damage.

Remember Love Canal?

BigRedDog
647
Points
BigRedDog 12/18/12 - 07:19 am
2
0

Can you spell Super Fund

I ran the PCB corral here in Kenai for 16 years, it surprizes me to see what could be called "The Yellow River of the North Super Fund Project" right in your back yard in Nikiski. It's like the 200 acre parcel in central Florida's Yellow River area which had 6 years on intense stacking and storing of PCBs from all over the nation. These folks would come by and pick up your PCB contaminated transformers, capacitors, oil or other waste and charge a reasonable price for their transportation and disposal. Then they stacked it all up and didn't dispose of anything, tossed the keys to the gates and buildings and walked away into the sunset. And nobody knows their names, addresses, or what they did with the money.
I think they held the cost of EPA superfund clean up to about $152,000,000. of course you and I paid for that one. It got a little sticky on the big Power Producers like Bonnieville,PG&E and those BIG BOYS said what do you mean we've been shafted? Nothing but false documents of destruction and disposal. Contaminated equipment with their name tags and ID's all over it contaminating the countryside.
I wonder if anyone associated with this site has a Hazwopr card or if they overlooked that too. It's against the law in the City of Kenai to have even a 5 gallon bucket of unidentified gue on your property. Boy, what a pile to have laid on your doorstep just before Christmas. Kids in our neighborhood would put it in a paper sack and set it on fire hoping someone would run out and stomp it out.

Norseman
2530
Points
Norseman 12/18/12 - 09:32 am
2
0

Nothing beats the smell of

Nothing beats the smell of fresh coffee in the morning brewed with well water from years of toxic wastes........

Way to go Nikisiki for taking one for the team. They are going to dump the stuff somewhere. Sure the oil industry provides jobs but at what cost to our children and grandchildren?
Just research the cancer rates in this area and you would be blown away.
Love canal all over again.

Watchman on the Wall
2893
Points
Watchman on the Wall 12/18/12 - 10:15 am
1
1

It's everywhere folks

Remember back when they paid a company to burn all of the soil around the new court house before they could build it where it now sits along with the vacant lots across from the Clarion? Did that burning really help clean that soil and where did they dump that soil afterwards?
All of the surrounding business's, buildings were and some still are oil related for many yrs. I often wonder about the old API lots out before Miller Loop as well as many others along the road to the beach in Nikiski, especially in the bowl area where the school is built, oil related business on every hill and many still there.
Yepper the coffee i just made here in ridgeway even is tainted with benzene and arsenic, but not compared to what my friend Norm Olson and his daughters family have to drink daily out there in NK. One of the major problems with the water out there is that colliers and other plants have sucked all the water out of the now dry lakes and most of the underground water as well and the run off from rain & snow is carrying a lot of contaminantes scattered everywhere into the water systems underground and people have to drink it.
Just guessing here that thats the trouble, not being a smart person that can use common sence does have it's drawbacks.
If CPGH was smart they would just build a hospital out north or a cancer treatment center. What a mess and how can one ever get to the end of it and who will pay if anyone ever will?
There is a reason there are no healthy living trees along NRoad past all those oil, gas & chemical related plants. I remember when colliers transplanted trees along the road replacing all the dead snags for the purpose of deception about all the contaminantes escaping into the air. Many of us long timers could share on this topic for every, but nothing will ever be done is the plane truth and how can it with all the mess everywhere?

ziggyak
77
Points
ziggyak 12/18/12 - 03:00 pm
1
1

Oil Field Waste

The waste was buried everywhere in multiple locations all around Swanson River oil fields, North Kenai at every other contractors yard, the old land fill in Kenai and the dump we used before that. Then we have all the old oil field workers that brought stuff home and later dumped it in there own back yards or buried it, it truly is every where.

Unglued
224
Points
Unglued 12/18/12 - 04:42 pm
0
2

Call it what it is

That black, gooey stuff is just progress!

motely
238
Points
motely 12/29/12 - 12:42 am
0
3

A CAN OF WORMS

charlies pizza theres a wall dedicated to this HAHAHAHA
A CAN OF WORMS

motely
238
Points
motely 12/29/12 - 01:04 am
0
2

proposed developement

Myron where is the 51 acres, cant seem to find it on the borough parcel viewer,
the only thing close to that would be next to the MI SWACO Building, and its 52.34 acres CLOSE ! but not 51, MI SWACO which be one of the companies that does something with drilling muds coming from the drill sites, Interesting !!! mmmmm
cant quite figure out where else this might be located,
there doesnt seem to be anything close to 51, does this mean when charlies Pizza isnt safe because they wash the vegetables ETC with the water ?
GOOD JOB DEC AND WHO EVER ELSE IS INVOLVED,
hearing certain last names is gut wrenching and nothing new, how about fixing the problem now thats creating all the fear in the community, yes it will cast a small fortune, that would be the evil doings of certain peoples and yes you know who you are ! hope this makes you feel good, was it really worth it ?

motely
238
Points
motely 12/29/12 - 01:07 am
0
2

RE : Jason D

Every one should be suspicious of whats happening and who's involved, anything for attention and money, look at all the waste that has been or was dumped all the way back to the early 80s
read the comments before this one ! check the water in the subdivision, why are wells being punched near live community sewer or even near all the supposed septic systems that are present, wells being punched on 1/4 acre lots and even smaller, HELLOOOOOOOOOO cancer,
anything for attention, all should be suspicious and careful of can of worms thats about to open, and really get nasty !! The town of Nikiski is really turning into something ! because of a handful of bad seeds, GLAD I DONT LIVE THERE ! good luck

Watchman on the Wall
2893
Points
Watchman on the Wall 12/28/12 - 11:10 am
2
1

EPA head resigns

A dirty EPA head has resigned this morning as evidance come foreward of illegal emails and government business being done on the side by said EPA head. Surely this is a single act and could never have happened before anywhere, not even in Alaska or N.Kenai or on the Peninsula, COULD IT?
I would bet there was some bathroom toetapping going on to signal intent for desired actions in this out of sight state wide disposal of all oil & gas related wastes that the EPA and other agencies were involved in.
None are rightious, all seek a bribe is what God says about government leaders. Could God be right again?
Money talks and we all love the power it gives us to Have it our way, and the lure of it has caused a many to depart from morals that would protect others from harm or troubles. Sex is another one of those traps that lure us away from morals and also causes much harm, and the list goes on & on in the fight to destroy all of us one way or another.
Leave the children alone for their parents sins is what i say. Of course the Bible, that we don't want to listen to says that the sins of the parents will be passsed on for many generations, and this could be one. I know that in my life the sins of my White trash family have been a major problem in my life and desire to stop the generational curse.
This will never be rectified or corrected no matter who is blamed, it,s already past the point of no return and the eternal damage is done and the water and land is spoiled for every and it,s sickness shows at the local hospital by the number of cases of terminal sickness's we all are subject to simply by living and drinking of the water or eating of the wild game or fish.
It's not the kids fault, but many want to place blame on them, all of which will accomplish nothing to elevate the problem.
Once again we see the wonderful protector of ALL falling short with promises to protect and provide for Americans at every turn or area of our lives if we would only allow them free reign to do so. NOT!

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