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Credit union reopens despite diesel fumes

Most of Court Plaza Building still closed at least until Friday

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

The Alaska State Employees Federal Credit Union has reopened its branch in the downtown Court Plaza Building, sealed since a fuel spill early Sunday.

However, most floors of the eight-story state office building will remain closed at least through Friday as cleanup crews haul out carpeting and other debris soaked in diesel.

Brad Thompson, director of the state Risk Management Division, said today the damage seems limited to a stairwell and some women's bathrooms near the west wall, but office equipment appears undamaged.

The fuel "is not sprayed on computers. ... There are some limited office papers and books that may have been up against the wall that may have come in contact with (the fuel) as it flowed down the wall.... As to magnitude I just don't know," said Thompson, who added crews still are assessing the extent of the damage.

State safety inspectors allowed the credit union to resume operations this morning on the building's ground floor, which was not damaged in the spill. But because the ground floor still stinks of diesel, the credit union will open to the public only in spurts to allow its six employees a break from the fumes, considered safe by the state.

"We wanted to go in and make sure the smell was not going to affect any of the staff. It's like being in a gas station sometimes people get headaches around it, sometimes they don't," said Sharon Kelly, CEO of the credit union, which is the building's largest private tenant.

The new hours are 10 to 11 a.m., noon to 1 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m., at least through Christmas, and it will be closed this Saturday, Kelly said. The credit union's 5,000 Juneau customers also may go to the company's administrative office on West 9th Street from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for banking services, offered there weekdays until the Main Street branch resumes its regular schedule, Kelly said.

Meanwhile, the state late Tuesday instructed its employees shut out of the building to remain on paid leave until contacted by their supervisors, while it searches for alternate office space. The building houses about 140 workers, mostly state employees.

The spill happened early Sunday after a float valve on a rooftop fuel tank failed, causing the tank to overflow. The state estimates 100 to 200 gallons of diesel seeped into the building, soaking carpets, walls and other materials.

The building's main fuel tank holds 3,000 gallons of diesel and is located under the structure. The main tank pumps heating oil up eight floors to a 50-gallon day tank on the roof, which feeds two boilers there, said building maintenance manager George McCurry, who helped maintain Juneau's major state buildings until November, when the responsibility shifted to the Department of Administration.

McCurry said rooftop boilers are a concern because of the potential for water or fuel leaks into occupied offices. He said the building was sold to the state in 1994 by a private company and that the developer probably put the boilers on the roof for economic reasons to clear more room for paying tenants.

"The rationale is basically mechanical space is not useful space it can't be leased or used," McCurry said.

He said most Juneau buildings have their boilers next to main fuel tanks on ground floors, but it would be expensive to reconfigure the systems in the Court Plaza Building. McCurry said the building's current heating system probably wouldn't work without the smaller fuel tank on the roof because it regulates the pressure of diesel pumped up from the main tank on the bottom floor. To work properly, the boilers need to receive diesel that is not under pressure, he said.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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