SeaLife Center plagued by tank leaks

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

SEWARD - The three most popular displays at the Alaska SeaLife Center were closed for much of this month while workers bored holes in concrete, tested paints and put dye in tanks to try to figure out where the giant tubs of seawater at the two-year-old $56 million center are leaking.

``The primary focus in the three main habitat tanks has been on the bird habitat,'' said Darryl Schaefermeyer, the center's general manager. ``That tank has been subject to a series of dye tests. Divers have gone into the tank and done some dye examination.

``We've had coring done in the floor slab and roofing, and portions of the deck were removed. It's been a fairly extensive examination.'' Eight outdoor tanks also will be checked as part of the work, Schaefermeyer said.

The SeaLife Center so far hasn't attracted the crowds expected when it opened in May 1998 as a research center where visitors could watch the scientists doing their work.

The center lost $2.7 million in 1999, and had to hand out several pink slips and pay cuts last month to try to slim down its budget.

On Feb. 7, the Steller sea lions, harbor seals and birds were moved to other tanks so the workers could do their sawing and drilling and chipping. The sea lions and seals were returned to their normal homes earlier this week, and the birds should be back early next week, Schaefermeyer said. While the work has been going on, admission to the center has been free.

Insurance carriers for the builders are footing the bill for the testing, Schaefermeyer said, as part of preparations for a possible trial on a series of lawsuits involving the center and its contractors.

Salt water from the tanks, holding from 90,000 to 165,000 gallons, has been leaking since before the center opened, he said.

``We've been dealing with the drips as they occur, but it's not good to have saltwater running through your concrete, It could result in structural problems later,'' Schaefermeyer told the Seward Phoenix Log.

The general contractor, Strand Hunt Construction Inc., sued the center's operator, the Seward Association for the Advancement of Marine Science, shortly after the marine museum opened. That suit seeks millions of dollars in reimbursements for change orders. The center sued the contractor back, saying the work was inferior and incomplete.

The recent work will do nothing to stop the leaks, and center officials ``have no idea how much it will cost,'' Schaefermeyer said. ``We're not trying to fix it now. We don't have the funds to fix it.''

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