Partnership takes on cleanup of old mine's oil tanks

Project includes bioremediation of contaminated soil, burning of sludge

Posted: Tuesday, October 04, 2005

One of Juneau's most notorious hazards - a couple of deteriorating bunker oil tanks from the old Alaska-Juneau gold mine, perched on a hill above downtown's Taku Smokeries/Fisheries plant - is getting a comprehensive cleanup.

An investor partnership, Alaska Trans Ltd., will foot the entire bill for the state-approved cleanup, which includes on-site bioremediation of contaminated soil and incineration of sludge.

It could cost $1 million to $5 million, a cleanup contractor said Monday.

Alaska Trans hopes to sell the property, said John Rice, a Juneau attorney representing the investor group.

The state is optimistic that cleaning up the 3-acre site will allow it to be developed, said Bill Janes, a project manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The tanks, which were designed to hold about 500,000 gallons of bunker C fuel, have been rusting and uncovered for decades. The south tank was emptied and dismantled 40 years ago but the north tank still contains a large quantity of petroleum-based sludge and debris.

Within the last year, at least two people have fallen into the north tank. They were rescued and had to be decontaminated, said Richard Etheridge, Juneau's fire marshal.

Additionally, as much as 750 gallons of fuel spilled from the north tank from 1978 to 1993, according to cleanup officials.

The north tank is considered a pollution risk to Gastineau Channel because of possible leaks, sabotage or structural failure.

"It's a big liability up there," Etheridge said.

Etheridge noted that a number of homeless residents live on the hillside above the tanks.

Due to the incineration that could start up as early as next week, "We expect there will be some smoke," Etheridge said.

The homeless residents have been notified of the cleanup but have not been evicted, city, state and company officials said.

Workers used high-pressure hoses to clean oil from the rusting metal parts of the north tank on Monday after successfully removing the south tank last week.

The project also will entail:

• pumping about 160,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water to the city sewer system, where it will be cleaned with biological treatment;

• dewatering and grinding up the sludge at the bottom of the north tank, which will then be incinerated. The contractor will operate two bunker oil incinerators for 45 days to 60 days at the site;

• stockpiling contaminated soil on the property and treating it with biological agents until it meets the most stringent state soil cleanup standards for petroleum compounds.

The project began last week and may continue through next spring, said Dan McNair, president of DMC Technologies, a private firm managing the cleanup for Alaska Trans.

"Having the lid off for so many years complicates the cleanup," McNair said.

The property was purchased from Alaska Electric Light and Power Co. by Chuck Keen in the 1970s, said David Stone, the utility's director of consumer affairs.

Keen had hoped to use the property as a terminal for his proposed tramway to Mount Juneau, but the project fell through, Stone said.

Stone, a mine historian, said the tanks supplied crude oil to the A-J mine's steam-generating plant, and the mine also sold oil to Juneau residents to heat their homes.

The north tank was abandoned in the 1960s or 1970s with 100,000 gallons of oil remaining inside. Its roof collapsed in 1971.

Negotiations between state and federal officials and property owners about how to remove the tanks and clean up the contamination were unsuccessful for decades, Janes said.

"It's been sitting there for 25 years," said Rice, the Juneau attorney representing the Alaska Trans group. Rice declined to name individuals in the partnership but said it includes a number of Alaska and Lower 48 investors.

The state of Alaska has a policy that it will not step in and pay for a cleanup unless it poses a significant environmental hazard, Janes said.

Janes claims that the storm water that has passed over the north tank over the last few decades was essentially clean.

Because of its chemical composition, the bunker fuel inside the north tank was sandwiched between two layers of water, Janes said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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