Water well on tap for Sterling

Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

No contamination from the Sterling Zip Mart gasoline leak has ever been detected in wells at Sterling Elementary School. Nevertheless, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Kenai Peninsula Borough have agreed to share the cost of installing a new well to provide water to the school.

The new well will cost an estimated $40,000, according to Rachel Navarre, the environmental compliance coordinator with the borough.

Navarre told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on July 9 that DEC officials had reconsidered an earlier request from the borough asking the state to either install a new well at the school or appropriate the funds to the borough to have the job done. Initially, she said, that request was denied.

DEC officials have since reversed that decision, she said.

"It will be done as soon as we can," Navarre said Monday. "We hope to have it done before school begins."

The well serving the school has never tested positive for gasoline or its byproducts, such as benzene, which have been detected elsewhere around the Zip Mart subsurface plume, Navarre said.

However, the school's well has been shut down at times due to problems associated with lead and copper, which have nothing to do with the gas spill.

Digging a new well at the school is a "preemptive step," Navarre said.

DEC will pay for digging the well and cover electrical costs associated with its construction, while the borough will pay to install pipes connecting it to the school and cover water treatment costs, she said.

Meanwhile, DEC continues its effort to clean up the Zip Mart fuel spill discovered late last year. The state took over the cleanup from the gas station owner, Whittier Properties Inc., in April when the Anchorage company said it was unable to handle the cost. DEC hired a consultant, Oasis-Bristol Environmental Services of Anchorage to continue the spill investigation. Another company, Shannon and Wilson Inc., is working with the state to recover product.

According to Navarre, of 26 monitoring wells installed, seven had free product and 13 showed dissolved fuel constituents above the maximum contaminant level allowed by law.

Monitoring Well 17, approximately 190 feet northeast of the school well, had no free product but did have benzene at 61 parts per billion, 12 times the level allowed by ADEC regulations.

Of six drinking wells sampled, only a well at B&D Auto and Denny's Auto Supply showed dissolved contaminants, Navarre said.

Groundwater flows away from the school, so there is little to no chance of the plume reaching the school, Navarre said.

However, "a minimum of three inches of free product" is present over a three-acre area around the Zip Mart and dissolved contaminants, mostly benzene, are present over a 15-acre area.

"The consultant estimates 30,000 to 90,000 gallons of fuel are still left on the water table," Navarre said in her memo to the assembly.

Data from the free-product recover tests are being reviewed and an operational plan for a full-scale product recovery effort is being developed, Navarre said.

More monitoring wells are to be drilled, including two on school property, she said.

Don Fritz, an environmental specialist with the DEC in charge of the operation said it could be years before cleanup is completed. He said it was the worst spill from a retail fuel operation (a gas station) that he was aware of in the state's history.

He also said it has not been established for a certainty that Whittier Properties, which acquired the station around 1990, was the owner when the fuel was released. Fuel tanks were changed in the mid-1990s, he said, and some contamination was detected at the time, but a full-scale analysis was not done until last year as part of final closure assessment required by the state when fuel tanks are put out of service.

"The possibility exists that it occurred even prior to 1990, when Whittier Properties took over," Fritz said. "Records are being researched to try to determine exactly when the spill occurred."

Fritz said that to date, some 4,000 gallons of free product have been recovered.

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