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Diesel spill leaks into city's wastewater

Posted: September 24, 2013 - 3:54pm  |  Updated: September 25, 2013 - 12:03am

A severed fuel line inside a Mendenhall Valley storage warehouse caused an estimated 250 gallons of diesel to drain into the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant Tuesday morning, according to city and state officials.

The leak disrupted the wastewater treatment process and prompted an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation investigation, but it is not likely to have any devastating effects on the environment, officials said.

Workers at the plant, located on Radcliffe Road, discovered the problem at about 6 a.m. when they smelled the diesel and saw a sheen of oil in the reactors where the wastewater is aerated, said Jim Westcott, the treatment supervisor for the City and Borough of Juneau’s Wastewater Utility Division.

A wastewater collection crew then traced the source of the oil to a leak coming from a warehouse behind the Tlingit & Haida Native Lands & Resources office near Donna’s restaurant in the valley.

Cheyenne Sanchez, an environment program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation who responded to the scene alongside the local police and fire departments, said a fuel line that connected a monitor heater to a 275-gallon fuel tank was severed. The fuel leaked down into a floor drain which led directly to the treatment plant, he said.

“A lot of the damage is already done since it already hit the drain leading toward the wastewater treatment plant,” Sanchez said in a phone interview, adding that the only thing the DEC can do now in continue to monitor the cleanup.

The cleanup was about 75 percent finished by mid-morning Tuesday. They crimped the line to prevent any further leakage, collected what fuel they could recover, and now all that’s left to do is air out the building, Sanchez said.

“There was no environmental damage outside, just inside (the building),” he added.

He noted that the monitor heater had been out of service for years, but the fuel tank was refilled sometime in the spring. It was almost full, he said.

City officials speculated that the severed fuel line was the result of a break-in or vandalism as members of the Juneau Police Department were seen dusting for fingerprints inside the building. A spokesman for the department was not aware of the incident earlier this morning and did not return subsequent phone calls in the afternoon seeking comment.

A Hazmat team with Capital City Fire and Rescue also responded to the warehouse just shy of 11 a.m., but fire chief Richard Etheridge said that was largely due to a mix-up in communication. He said in addition to reporting the fuel leak, the Tlingit and Haida office called CCFR to consult with them about how to properly dispose of a water testing kit that contained a small amount of cyanide. The Hazmat team responded as if it were an emergency.

“It appears there was a mix-up in communication,” he said, noting CCFR crews left shortly after arriving on scene and confirming that the DEC was tending to the cleanup.

The Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is owned by CBJ, is one of three such plants in Juneau. The other two were not affected by the spill. It routinely processes around a million gallons of wastewater a day, and sometimes up to three million gallons if there’s a big rain event.

The wastewater (which is defined to include anything that goes down the drain, including human waste, stormwater and flushable items) is treated by aeration blowers and jet circulation pumps inside one of plant’s eight sequencing batch reactors. The treated water from the Mendenhall plant is discarded into the Mendenhall River.

CBJ Director of Public Works Kirk Duncan said the fuel leak affected the plant’s ability to process the wastewater on Tuesday as it leaked into all seven operating reactors, but that it did not cause any “horribly significant” or “catastrophic” problems.

He said they will not be able to completely remove the oil from the wastewater, but they will be able to dilute it before it’s dumped into the river. He said the diluted oil will likely not have an impact on the environment, and people probably won’t be able to see a sheen in the river.

“You’ve got a situation where you’ve got 275 gallons being diluted by more than a million gallons of water that flows into a river that sees more than that a day,” he said. “Dilution is the solution. We don’t like it, but it will not have an impact on the environment.”

The odor of the oil will probably linger in the plant for the next month, he said. It will also affect the plant’s readings of the quality of the wastewater, which they report to the DEC each month. That’s in part why protocol calls for the plant to alert the DEC to spills, as they did in this case. Workers also drew samples of the biomass mixture containing the oil to send to Admiralty Labs for analysis, also required by protocol.

A spokesperson for Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which is believed to own the warehouse, could not be reached for comment.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

•••

Original article appears below:

Hazmat team responds to reported diesel spill in the valley

A Hazmat team responded to a report of a diesel spill behind the Tlingit & Haida Native Lands & Resources offices near Donna’s restaurant in the valley at about 10:55 a.m. Tuesday.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Etheridge said the crews were on scene trying to investigate the extent of the spill.

There was also a report of possible cyanide capsules on scene, but Etheridge said he wasn’t sure how that was related to the reported spill.

Members of the Juneau Police Department and the Department of Environmental Conservation also responded to the scene.

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