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Unalaska grapples with how to finance EPA-mandated water projects

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Albert Burnham photo courtesy City of Unalaska

The new water treatment projects are causing Unalaska officials to look for a way to pay for the three federally-required facilities, and the city manager says low-interest state loans could be a big help.

"We will be constructing some $50 million in projects in the next four years. Where is the money going to come from?" manager Chris Hladick asked in his May 22 written report to the city council.

Hladick said the city is looking for loans at 1.5 percent interest for the new wastewater treatment plant, water plant and landfill leachate flow leveling tank, all mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Cuts in city services are the last resort, he said.

The city council has taken a first look at a financing plan to pay for the projects, with additional discussions planned for July and August, he said. The new wastewater plant alone could cause consumers' rates to double, he said earlier.

"It's not a pretty picture, but you also have to look at what has been accomplished" he said, citing the new boat harbor and power plant, his top priorities when he arrived from Dillingham in 2001. Both were long overdue, he said.

"What we did not know until 2008 was that the wastewater treatment plant and water plant would pop up. We have known that we would continue to build landfill cells, but we had no idea we would be constructing a leachate flow leveling tank," Hladick wrote.

City utilities director Dan Winters said the tank will collect water that drains from the landfill, and slow its flow into the sewer plant during heavy rains, as required by the EPA. The runoff already goes to the sewer plant, but at an unregulated rate, he said

The council last month awarded a leachate tank construction contract to low bidder Alaska Mechanical, Inc., of Anchorage for $6,588,000.

Winters said the new sewer plant will cost $19.5 million. The EPA fined the city $340,000 last month for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act at the plant at the corner of Airport Beach and Gilman roads.

At a recent city council meeting, council member Roger Rowland praised Hladick for keeping the fine low compared to potential maximum penalties, and said he deserved special credit for hiring a Washington, D.C. law firm to defend the city.

Winters said the new water treatment plant will cost $9.5 million. He said it's required by a federal one-size-fits-all policy to solve a problem that doesn't exist locally. He said the EPA now requires two types of treatment for water from surface sources, in this case the city's dam on Pyramid Creek. The existing plant only treats water with chlorine. The new plant will use both chlorine and ultraviolet radiation. The ultraviolet system aims to kill organisms that he said are not present in Unalaska.

In other news, Hladick reported the hiring last month of Peggy McGlaughlin as the new port director, replacing Alvin Osterback. "She comes to the city with an in-depth background in shipping and understands how our port facilities operate," Hladick wrote. McGlaughlin was formerly employed in the local office of Horizon Lines, which operates two container gantry cranes at the city-owned Unalaska Marine Center.

Also, the avalanches were finally cleared from Summer Bay Road on June 1, much later than most years, said city engineer Tyler Zimmerman. Last year, the road was only closed for maybe a month, he said. Overland Drive remains closed due to snow, he said Tuesday.

And Hladick said in his report that a six-person city delegation of three council members, the mayor, himself and the planning director will spend three days next week in New Orleans and other Louisiana towns, to see how communities adapted to the oil field industry. They will meet with offshore oil support companies Edison Schouest and Harvey Gulf. Following visits to Port Fourchon and Lafayette, they will tour the Port of New Orleans.

"It should be a productive visit," Hladick wrote.

This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is reprinted here with permission. Jim Paulin can be reached at jpaulin(at)reportalaska.com.