Railroad prepares to dig trench to keep fuel from river

Posted: Sunday, July 02, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Railroad is preparing to dig a trench between the site of a 120,000 gallon jet fuel spill and the Susitna River now that fuel has been found in test wells closer to the river, officials said Friday.

The fuel, which is following groundwater, has reached four test wells approximately 200 feet from the spill site and about 650 feet from the river. The trench would be used to capture the fuel before it reaches the river.

The spill occurred Dec. 22 when a train derailed 36 miles north of Talkeetna. Crews recovered 16,570 gallons, about 14 percent of the total spilled.

There was no fuel in the wells a week ago, said Bob Dreyer, a state Department of Environmental Conservation coordinator for the cleanup.

''A week ago they were clean,'' he said.

The Alaska Railroad blamed the problem on heavy rains and snowmelt that pushed thin layers of emulsified fuel into the wells.

''We had planned if the fuel hit the sentinel wells that we would look at digging a trench,'' said Ernie Piper, the railroad's assistant vice president for safety and compliance. ''The most likely scenario is that the plume isn't moving but the heavy rains and snowmelt caused a surge of water to rush through the plume and flush out some of the emulsified fuel to the sentinel wells.''

He said the wells had been pumped and no more fuel had accumulated.

Dreyer said the fuel is following the direction of groundwater.

Crews dug more than 120 test wells around the site to monitor the spill. Instead of removing contaminated soil, the railroad chose to pump air into the ground to vent some of the fuel vapors and to stimulate bacteria that will feed on and break down the hydrocarbons.

Dreyer said the railroad is moving equipment to the site to begin building the trench Saturday.

The railroad so far has spent more than $4 million to clean up the spill.

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