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As Kodiak's landfill gets full, expansion is slowed by winter weather

Posted: November 25, 2011 - 12:06am
A heavy equipment driver motors past a pile of tires at the Kodiak Island Borough landfill Tuesday. A project to expand the landfill has been temporarily put on hold by a blizzard that arrived at Kodiak on Tuesday.  James Brooks / Kodiak Daily Mirror
James Brooks / Kodiak Daily Mirror
A heavy equipment driver motors past a pile of tires at the Kodiak Island Borough landfill Tuesday. A project to expand the landfill has been temporarily put on hold by a blizzard that arrived at Kodiak on Tuesday.

KODIAK — It’s the biggest earthmoving project Mike Anderson has ever had on Kodiak Island, but for the moment, he’s frozen out.

Tuesday’s blizzard halted Anderson Construction’s work on the first part of the project to expand the Kodiak Island Borough landfill, something Anderson expects when it comes to working through the winter — but don’t expect him to be happy about it.

“We didn’t plan for the weather, but we’ve got more work coming up in the spring, so we’re going to try to work through the winter,” he said. “We hope this is your normal, first-of-the-year winter storm, and we are hoping we’re going to get some warm weather slots during the winter where we can work.”

Anderson doesn’t normally work through the winter, but time is a factor.

The borough landfill will be full by fall 2014. The expansion needs to be done much sooner than that, said Alan Torres, the landfill’s supervisor.

“Good business practice dictates you have almost a year overlap,” he said.

Two pits — called “cells” in official terms — are planned. Each will hold about 10 to 15 years worth of garbage, Torres said.

To save money, Cell 2 will remain unfinished until Cell 1 is full.

Digging even one cell isn’t an easy task. According to contract documents, Anderson is required to excavate about 35,000 cubic yards of soil and about 135,000 cubic yards of bedrock, among other tasks. That’s roughly the equivalent of moving the volume of the Kodiak Community Pool.

Adding to the challenge is the schedule. Because the borough used funding from the Environmental Protection Agency for the first phase of the landfill expansion, it was mandated to have a one-month public comment period before work could begin.

Because Anderson’s contract was awarded in July, that meant work couldn’t begin until September, after the best construction weather. Anderson’s deadline to finish was extended to May 31 in compensation, but that still means most of the work has to be done in the heart of winter.

“It’s probably one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever done just because we’re trying to do it in the winter,” Anderson said. “We are striving to make the deadline in spite of having to work in this weather.”

He estimates the project is about 30 percent complete. About “95 percent” of the dirt work is done, Anderson said, and about 37,000 cubic yards of bedrock has been blasted and dug.

“The other day we did 25,000 pounds of dynamite at once,” he said. “We haven’t done this much blasting on any one job with the exception of a job out in Akutan in 2007. Here on Kodiak, we’ve done a lot of jobs in the 30,000 to 50,000 (cubic yard) range, but nothing quite this big.”

Anderson has a crew of eight and another four men from a subcontractor charged with doing the blasting. Enormous Volvo rock trucks weighing 140,000 pounds fully loaded carry the debris to a dump site, and their sheer size causes problems in the winter.

“They make a couple passes over snow, and it’s packed and it’s icy,” Anderson said. “We’ve got the right equipment for the job, but this time of year, you can only do so much. We have to either run a grader full-time so it’s safe enough to haul, or we can’t haul.”

When the blasting and hauling is complete, the job won’t be over. The second phase of the Cell 1 expansion project will go out to bid “in the February timeframe,” Torres said.

That will involve lining the cell with plastic and installing a drainage system to collect rainwater and the liquid created by the decaying garbage, called leachate.

“There’s a piping system on top of the liner that will collect all of it,” Torres said.

The third phase of the expansion involves what to do with the leachate. Two solutions exist: sending it to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which would have to be upgraded, or processing it at the landfill.

The landfill already has a system of artificial wetlands to filter leachate, but the new lined garbage cell will create waste too concentrated to use in that system.

As the borough debates a solution to the leachate problem, the garbage continues to pile up and the landfill gets closer to full. When the garbage reaches a certain height, the landfill is closed. There are no extensions or exceptions.

“The garbage trucks are always running,” Torres said.

Facing a firm deadline, Anderson remains confident that his part of the job, at least, will be done on schedule.

“Who knows what kind of weather windows we’ll get, but we’ll be out there cranking,” he said. “We said we’ll perform and, by God, we’re going to.”

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