ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Railroad's attempt's to clean up 120,000 gallons of fuel spilled at Gold Creek in December 1999 aren't working and railroad officials have told state environmental regulators they want to stop trying to remove the spilled fuel.
Instead, the railroad's consultants say, the jet fuel buried in the soil 40 miles north of Talkeetna should be monitored for 50 years or longer.
Even if fuel-contaminated groundwater were to reach the nearby Susitna River and its salmon-rich environment, it likely would be so diluted that it wouldn't damage the river or harm any people, the railroad's experts say.
The recommendations are contained in a report delivered to the state Department of Environmental Conservation on April 12. Jim Frechione, a DEC environmental manager, said Thursday that the agency will review the analysis and respond, probably by mid-May.
''The information in it looks good -- that the plume is somewhat stable and not migrating,'' Frechione said. ''As far as no further action, that's a decision that has not been made by DEC. We're going to have to have to look at the report and come up with a decision.''
But a spokesman with the Mat-Su office of the Alaska Center for the Environment said the state shouldn't let the railroad stop the cleanup.
''They spilled over 100,000 gallons of fuel there,'' the center's Joe LeBeau said. ''They need to do the responsible thing and continue the cleanup.''
On Dec. 22, 1999, three locomotives and 15 tank cars on a fuel train bound from Fairbanks to Anchorage derailed at about 2 a.m. The crash punched holes in seven tank cars. Response crews, hindered by drifting snow and avalanches, didn't reach the spill site for a day and a half.
At first, railroad, DEC and federal Environmental Protection Agency officials thought snow would absorb the fuel, but eventually most of the fuel soaked through the snow and deep into the ground. According to the DEC, only 16,570 gallons have been recovered.
The railroad and its contractors have drilled dozens of recovery wells and installed a network of ''vapor extraction'' pipes that were supposed to suck fuel vapors out of the soil. The system hasn't worked very well, the report says.
The recovery wells managed to collect less than 14 percent of the spilled fuel and it would take at least 10 more years for the vapor extraction process to produce any significant reduction in soil contamination, the report says. Even then, the submerged fuel would be not be affected.
Soil in a large part of the 500-foot-long pear-shaped spill zone is heavily saturated with fuel.
In addition, the threats posed by the spill are limited, the report says. There are no water wells in the area, and ''groundwater monitoring shows that the free product (fuel) is several hundred feet . . . from the river's edge and is not migrating.''
The DEC at one point suggested digging up and removing the contaminated soil. But railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn said moving the fuel-soaked ground could create more environmental hazards than it would eliminate.
''Basically, what it comes down to is, in terms of public health and environmental safety, the best thing is to leave it there,'' Flynn said. ''If you start remobilizing the product, you increase the chance of environmental degradation.''
The railroad has spent about $11 million on the spill.
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