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Rural Alaska

New Unalaska wastewater treatment plant ups monthly utility costs to nearly $300

  • Author: Jim Paulin
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published May 26, 2013

Unalaska's major upgrade of its water and sewer continues to move forward, in compliance with the terms of a consent decree with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, the city council approved a $19.3 million contract with low bidder Alaska Mechanical to construct a new wastewater treatment plant. Also bidding were SKW Eskimos at $21.1 million; MKB Contractors at $23.4 million, and UIC Construction at $28.5 million. The engineer's estimate was $21.1 million, according to the Unalaska Department of Public Works.

The new projects involving water, wastewater and solid waste are projected to raise average monthly residential utility bills by $44.94 over three years, from the current level of $251 to $296 in fiscal year 2016, according to city manager Chris Hladick.

The council will look at increasing utility rates at its next meeting in June. The total bill for all the projects is estimated at $60 million, with funding from a variety of sources, including grants, loans, and rate hikes and perhaps a sales tax increase from 3 to 4 percent.

"These are extraordinary times. We've got $60 million worth of projects we've been asked to do by the EPA, to put it mildly," Hladick told the city council last week.

In his written report to the city council, he blamed two federal agencies for making the city unnecessarily spend a fortune on new facilities. He said it started in 2003 with the renewal of a federal permit for the wastewater plant's outfall lines, which discharge treated sewerage into Unalaska Bay.

"A major mistake was made in the drafting of the permit. EPA admitted they made a mistake and so did the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The city spent four years trying to correct the mistake and EPA tried to correct the mistake by amending the permit. The amendment was put out for public comment and the Fish and Wildlife Service accused EPA of not following NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). The EPA then dropped the effort to correct the permit and instituted fines back to 2004. The rest is history," the city manager wrote.

The city ended up paying more than $300,000 in fines and signed a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, representing the EPA, following numerous council meetings in closed door executive sessions last year -- requiring the new wastewater plant, water treatment plant and landfill leachate water treatment.

The city ended up with legal bills of more than a half million dollars for lawyers in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.

This story first appeared in The Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.

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