State, feds to close three area waste wells

In an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will close 55 motor-vehicle waste disposal wells across Alaska at state vehicle repair and maintenance facilities. Some wells are in groundwater-protection areas and pose a risk to water resources used by communities for drinking water, the EPA said in a press release last month.

Three of the wells are on the lower Kenai Peninsula. One well is at a DOTPF site in Ninilchik at Mile 129 Sterling Highway across from the Ninilchik School. Two sites are in Homer: at the DOTPF site next to the Homer Waste Transfer Facility on Baycrest Hill and on Kachemak Drive near the airport.

DOTPF used the wells to dispose of storm water, snowmelt and water used to wash cars. The wastewater could have contained antifreeze, brake fluid and other petroleum products known to be harmful to human health, the EPA said.

DOTPF has been aware of the need to address the waste-disposal sites and working with EPA on a plan, said Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for DOTPF.

“Many of these floor drains and tank systems were put in place before the EPA guidelines were set, and it’s a matter of catching up with the new regulations and addressing them properly,” he said.

For example, the Ninilchik site was built in 1969.

The Baycrest Hill DOTPF site was tested in 2010 and shown to contain arsenic and chromium above state cleanup levels, but possibly within natural occurring ranges for the area, according to the EPA. The test also showed samples were above the cleanup level for tetrachloroethene, a commonly used cleaning chemical. It can affect the liver, kidneys, blood and immune system and also cause cancer. The other two sites haven’t been tested.

The Baycrest Hill site and the Ninilchik site will be upgraded with oil and water separators, holding tanks and new septic fields, a 2016 project, Woodrow said. The Kachemak Drive well-disposal site was closed in 2008 when it was connected to city water and sewer. DOTPF also will test soils around the sites to see if mitigation measures are needed.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to regulate underground injection wells. It banned motor vehicle waste disposal injection wells in 2000 and required closure of all existing wells.

DOTPF has agreed to sample the 55 Alaska wells, remove contamination and shut down the wells. As part of the settlement, DOTPF will pay $332,000 for the Safe Water Drinking Act Violations.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at