Plant to continue pumping warm water into Chena River

Posted: Tuesday, September 02, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Federal environmental regulators say a Fairbanks power plant can continue to pump warm water into the Chena River.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit to Aurora Energy LLC despite opposition from critics who say the 78-degree discharge prevents some of the river from freezing, limiting winter recreation.

The permit is effective Oct. 1.

The utility sucks about 20 million gallons of water a day from the Chena, uses it as a cooling agent and pumps the heated water back into the river. Aurora Energy claims it has investigated alternative options and can't afford them.

The EPA said it won't force the company to find a use for its heated wastewater or phase out the discharge because the water is harmless to Chena River habitat. The agency issued the permit on Tuesday.

''EPA sees no reason based on water quality concerns for the permit to contain either provision,'' said a report prepared by Cindi Godsey, an EPA permit writer in Anchorage, and Luke Boles, environmental engineering assistant with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Buki Wright, general manager of the utility, efforts to mitigate discharge will continue.

Efforts should be made to reduce the warm water discharge, according to a plan by the Chena Riverfront Commission, a panel that advises the Fairbanks North Star Borough on river-related issues, and the borough's Proposed Regional Comprehensive Plan.

''My hope is that we would all continue to work in a collaborative manner with Aurora to reach this goal,'' said Kelly Hegarty-Lammers, riverfront commission chairwoman.

The power plant was bought from the city of Fairbanks in 1998 by a conglomerate made up mainly of members of the Usibelli family. The warm water pumping went on for decades under city ownership of the plant.

Since the conflict over the water discharge, Aurora Energy has been working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to use some of the heated water for a fish hatchery.

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