New ferry HQ has history of toxic substances

Reports cite asbestos floors, roof leaks, possible structural damage to administration building

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

About 100 leaks in the roof, asbestos-tiled flooring beneath dank carpets and possible toxic mold are among the fixes that must take place before some 44 state ferry system administrators are relocated this summer to the Ketchikan Pulp Co. administration building at Ward Cove.

The Ketchikan Borough Assembly, which proposed leasing the building to the state, plans to spend $500,000 renovating it but has not determined exactly where the money would be used.

The state has promised to conduct a structural and hazardous materials survey of the building before state workers are moved. But the building is owned by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which is responsible for the review, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Borough Mayor Mike Salazar, who brokered the ferry system move, said he is not aware of any plans to review the building for toxic substances or structural damage. On Friday he said Juneau should "quit whining and just let this thing happen."

Gov. Frank Murkowski and the state Department of Transportation contend that the building would be cheaper and create efficiencies with administrators working more closely with the fleet.

But many at the Alaska Marine Highway System offices in Juneau say they like the current facility located next to Gastineau Channel.

Ketchikan Pulp Co. administration building

The 51-year-old building is at the site of the former Ketchikan Pulp Co. mill at Ward Cove, about four miles north of downtown Ketchikan.

The two-story structure overlooks the mill site where old warehouses and rusting equipment sit dormant. Multiple structures stand damaged beyond repair.

Following the close of the mill, some buildings were demolished. Others were left standing but suffered significant damage due to the demolition blasts.

"It's really depressing. It's got to be really depressing for the guys who were down here," said Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assistant Manager Steve Corporon during a recent tour of the former mill below the administration building.

The administration building has sat largely vacant since the pulp mill closed in 1997. That year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began investigating the extent of contamination at the industrial park.

"Human health risks to workers on site were found related to arsenic and PCBs," according to a June 2000 report the EPA and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

It was then declared an EPA Brownfield site, defined as an idled commercial site where redevelopment "may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant."

The EPA report noted, however, that because the arsenic at the site is in the soil, a form that is less likely to be absorbed into the body, "the actual risks may be lower."

The building also is close to a planned human waste composting site that would serve the entire Ketchikan Gateway Borough. And there are plans for a plant that would produce ethanol from garbage and wood waste.

In 2003, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considered establishing a single-vessel homeport for one of its ships at Ward Cove. It noted in a May 2003 report that "acquisition or lease of property at this site would make it susceptible to shared liability for on-site contamination" unless an environmental assessment is prepared. The assessment, the report said, would provide the agency with the ability to use an "innocent landowner defense" if it were later held responsible for cleanup at the site.

The borough considered but ultimately rejected moving its own offices to the building in 2003.

At that time the borough hired Welsh Whitely Architects, an architectural firm with offices in Ketchikan, to review renovations needed at the facility.

The study found that carpeting throughout the building covers asbestos tiling installed when the structure was built.

"There was no hazardous-materials sampling performed as part of this report," it said, adding that because of the age of the building it can be assumed that "there are asbestos-containing materials, and lead paint in the facility."

Department of Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton and Deputy Commissioner Tom Briggs told members of the House State Affairs Committee last week that the state would conduct a hazardous-materials survey and structural-engineering review of the building.

But this week Department of Transportation officials said it is the responsibility of the Ketchikan borough to conduct the reviews.

Salazar, the borough mayor, said he's not sure if the borough will conduct the review.

"If we have to do one, we'll do it," Salazar said. "This is about the first time I've heard about it."

This could reduce the suggested savings of the move. State officials say that it could save up to $200,000 a year by moving the ferry system to Ketchikan.

On Jan. 20, Steve Flodin, facilities chief for the department of transportation, toured the facility at Briggs' request, saying that the 2003 review of the building "appears to be accurate."

Flodin added that numerous leaks throughout the top floor of the building must be fixed before occupancy.

Assistant Borough Manager Corporon, during a recent tour of the building, said the upper floor where marine highway offices would be has about 100 leaks.

Trash cans and coffee cans were strategically placed in hallways and offices to catch dripping water. This may have caused damage to the wooden structure of the building, according to Flodin.

"An additional adverse effect can be mold growth which is detrimental to health and difficult to remove," Flodin said.

Flodin said windows were "swollen shut" due to excessive moisture on the inside of the building. He said he found no insulation in the exterior walls, which would "dramatically affect the utility costs."

Assistant Borough Manager Corporon told Flodin the city was waiting for a tenant to occupy the building before fixing the structure and indicated that the borough plans to put a "membrane cover on top of the existing roof."

This would cost the borough about $50,000. Installing a pitched roof to prevent further leakage would cost about $250,000.

Last week the Ketchikan borough Assembly voted 7-0 in favor of spending $500,000 renovating the facility but has not yet discussed specifics of how the money would be spent.

It will finance the renovations by borrowing money from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Land Trust and reimbursing the trust through the sale of the Gateway Forest Products building in Ketchikan to the Alaska State Troopers.

Last week the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted to take no action on plans to demolish a wood room and powerhouse at the site.

Juneau AMHS headquarters at Channel Drive

The move will leave empty about 6,200 square feet of office space on Channel Drive in Juneau. There are no clear plans for what will happen to the space once it is vacated.

It also is unclear whether the state will take the furniture and supplies at the Juneau building.

Ferry offices were moved to the facility in 1994 from a smaller location near Juneau-Douglas High School. That building was later demolished and turned into a parking lot, according to George Capacci, general manager of the marine highway system.

Capacci said the current offices are a vast improvement over the building prior to 1994.

"It was a terrible, old leaky building and it was cold and wet and hot in the summer and cold in the winter," he said. "It was old and it needed to go."

Although an improvement from the previous location, the Juneau offices have undergone a significant renovation over the last two years, with a price tag of just under $94,000.

Within the last year the state spent more than $43,500 for furniture and renovation of the engineering office spaces and at the ferry system offices. In 2002, renovation and office equipment for the vessel operations section cost about $50,400, according to department officials.

Capacci said he is unsure whether the office furniture would be moved to Ketchikan or left for incoming tenants.

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