Wastewater plant fuel leak will cost thousands

City advised to inform neighbors about diesel spill at treatment plant

Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A diesel fuel leak earlier this year at a city-owned wastewater treatment plant will cost $100,000 to $150,000 to clean up and fix the faulty fuel system that caused the problem, according to city staff.

Earlier this year, staff discovered that an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel escaped from buried pipes at the Mendenhall Valley wastewater treatment plant, according to utility Superintendent Scott Jeffers.

Diesel fuel is needed to power some of the treatment plant's equipment.

Unusually high fuel bills were the first clue there might be a leak, Jeffers said, adding that it was impossible to determine the exact amount of spilled diesel.

The leaked diesel fuel is several feet underground, sitting atop ground water, according to Jeffers.

The problem was discovered in March, he said.

The plant's fuel system has been shut down since then and recovery efforts are under way. The efforts are pulling in about 250 gallons of fuel every two days, Jeffers said. So far, about 7,750 gallons of diesel fuel have been recovered.

Jeffers said the city is using a special pump that sucks up only diesel fuel, and he hopes that all of it can be reused. The price of diesel fuel skyrocketed in recent months to more than $5 a gallon.

Drilling and testing have indicated the oil has not spread beyond the treatment plant's property line, nor to the Mendenhall River, which sits next to the plant, Jeffers said.

"We're extremely thankful for that," he said.

But the fuel could shift to other properties, said Scot Tiernan, a spill response coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Any time you have something in the ground that can still be mobile, it can move off property," Tiernan said. He added that the city was doing a diligent job of trying to recover the oil but should let the plant's neighbors know of any potential problems. He said a cleanup process involving this much diesel fuel would likely be long-term.

Jeffers said the city had not told the plant's neighbors about the spill because tests indicated the fuel was not encroaching on surrounding properties.

On Monday, the Juneau Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee approved shuffling about $60,000 to pay for part of the cleanup.

The money will come from a fund approved in 2003 to replace the fuel system at the treatment plant, when city employees discovered that diesel fuel leaked into the ground. But after the leak was fixed, Jeffers said he thought the system was sound and didn't need replacing.

"Frankly, I let it slip down in my pile of to dos," Jeffers said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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