Mark Twain once said “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Probably wise counsel. However, the series of articles which the Clarion ran last week regarding the “Arness Septage” site in Nikiski demand some response. I don’t have six articles to reply with, so I will focus my responses to three major areas.
On the 14th of March, 2006 the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly met in regular session and one of the items on their agenda was a “Commending Resolution” which recognized the “contributions and commitments of James Arness.” Prior to reading this commendation into the official record, Gary Superman who served as the Nikiski representative to the Assembly said quite simply “We have lost a giant.” My dad was a man who was instrumental in introducing Boy Scouts and Little League to the peninsula. He was part of the group which established the Peninsula Oilers, as well as one of a handful of people who gathered to raise the funds and get the approvals to start a high school football team in Kenai. His efforts and expenditure of his own funds to construct the first freight handling dock in Nikiski — and therefore to provide an economy for not only Nikiski, but Kenai and Soldotna as well — is well documented. What is less well known is that he was primarily responsible for envisioning, introducing, getting approval for, and overseeing the construction of the Nikiski Pool.
That is not a legacy or a family name which needs to be defended in any way. Yes, he was an active individual and had his detractors … but he lived his life in an effort to improve his community and did so with style. Should he have gotten involved with a waste site where he arguably didn’t have the appropriate expertise? In retrospect, he should not have. However, that does not change who or what he was in our community.
Now for the site itself. As your series of articles indicated, there is a long and torturous history there. Trying to point fingers and establish blame at this late date is really an effort in futility. I happen to believe that there is plenty of blame and mistakes to include everyone involved along the way. The fact is that the question of the moment is “Now What?” We have been in contact with the DEC and indicated to them our willingness to co-operate to do what may be necessary to mitigate public damage and to hopefully be able to recover the use of our own land.
Generally, the consensus seems to be that there is very little which can be done to “clean up” this property at this time. All of the drums, visible fluids, and other industrial detritus were removed long ago. Now the question is what remains below. To some extent, we can find that out. However, even if we find it, there is not much which can be done to remove it. Rather, the question now is whether there is material in the groundwater and which direction it is moving (if it is). Again, we have begun a process which should help us, the DEC, and the community know the answer to that question.
As regards that water question, please note that the levels of any contaminates which appeared in water testing were dramatically below any dangerous level as of 20 years after all material had been removed from the surface and the site was closed. Please also note that the specific contaminate which was found is a compound which was routinely used as an additive for cleaning septic systems. The science of waste management has changed dramatically over the years and comparing current standards to old facilities can provide troublesome results.
Finally, the allegations of political gamesmanship having had an impact on the history of this site: Mr. Horwath chose to put some truly offensive allegations regarding my mother (and, by extension, my father) onto a State of Alaska website. I am astonished that he would arbitrarily make allegations about a private citizen without benefit of one shred of evidence that what he is alleging is true. Further, I am amazed that he is still employed by the State — not just employed, but when we go in to talk with DEC, we are expected to talk with him. I am aware that he was simply trying to cover his office for the lack of progress in regards to this site. Unfortunately, his words served only to feed the “conspiracy theory” folks who are now convinced that what he said is true and therefore is an indication of even more egregious wrongdoing on everyone’s part. Those folks, by the way, were given the opportunity to have their wells tested at no charge to establish whether they had any sort of contamination. They refused. In my opinion, at that moment they removed themselves from any further conversation regarding the history or future of the site. I have anguished over how to prove the negative involved here but can come up with no adequate resolution beyond simply saying that no political connections were utilized by any member of my family to in any way influence the activities of the DEC as regards this site.
We would love to see some resolution for this site, and we are dedicated to seeing to it that the community health is protected. We live here, these are our neighbors, this is our community.
If, in fact, there is damage to anyone other than ourselves, we will figure out how to make it right.
Joe Arness lives in Nikiski.