Nanwalek school spill cleanup to cost $230K

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

Borough risk managers have asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to approve spending nearly $230,000 to finish cleaning up diesel-contaminated soil at Nanwalek Elementary-High School and replace playground equipment removed during excavation work last year.

Ordinance 2001-19-33 gets a public hearing at the March 12 assembly meeting.

Soil contaminated with diesel fuel was discovered beneath one of the school's two playgrounds during routine maintenance in the summer of 2000. Diesel had been used for heating up to 1981, but not since. However, according to records, one and possibly several spills occurred at the school prior to that year.

Last year, the borough spent approximately $139,000 for soil monitoring and excavation of 450 cubic yards of contaminated soil. That soil is now stockpiled in a fenced-off portion of one of the playgrounds covered top and bottom with tarps. The cleanup work required removal of a large playground structure.

To complete the job, two remaining pockets of contaminated soil totaling an estimated at 150 cubic yards must be excavated. In addition, further sampling and analysis of groundwater at four monitoring wells and a sump are required.

All 600 cubic yards of material then must be hauled away and cleaned, and 250 cubic yards of clean fill brought in to level the playground site. Finally, new playground equipment must be installed.

The ordinance would appropriate $229,425, including $123,000 to cover the estimated cost of excavation and remediation and $50,000 for the playground equipment. The project contract would go out for bid as soon as possible after approval in order to complete the cleanup this summer.

If time allows, the playground equipment structure would be replaced this summer as well. If not, installation would be put off until the summer of 2003, according to the risk management office.

There is too little room at the school for remediation efforts to be conducted there, so the contractor will have to haul the soil to another location, according to Rachel Navarre, environmental compliance coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

"It's open whether it's done (elsewhere) in Nanwalek or in Homer or Anchorage. We're leaving that up to the contractor," he said.

When the contamination was discovered, residents expressed concern not only for the health of their children currently attending the school, but also for many young adults who had grown up playing on the playground. Epidemiologists from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health investigated and declared the playground safe in a report issued in August 2000.

According to the report, there was "no threat to public health" for students and adults attending the school. Neither was there a reason to worry about contamination of the food chain. Navarre quoted the public health report:

"Based on the known characteristics of diesel fuel, it is unlikely that there has been any significant bio-accumulation of petroleum hydrocarbons into the food chain, including wild vegetables, berries and fish or other seafood."

All the costs so far have been borne by the borough's Land Management Trust Fund, the expected source of funding for the new contract. The borough administration, however, is exploring external sources of funding which might reimburse the trust fund, Navarre said.

Principal Maurice Glenn, now in his fourth year heading the school, said the project hasn't caused any real headaches, although the children miss the playground equipment they call "the big toy," a wooden post structure that includes a slide and monkey bars.

Currently, 73 students attend the Nanwalek school, he said.

"At this point it hasn't caused any problems," Glenn said of the cleanup effort. "They've done a nice job stockpiling it and they've fenced it. We're able to get by. It's nice to see that the borough is working to clean up the project in as timely a manner as possible."

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