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Archives

State and borough discuss Talkeetna sewer lagoon violations

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Representatives from the Mat-Su Borough have met with state officials regarding violations of the Clean Water Act at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon, but the details of those discussions have not yet been made public.

Mat-Su Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos confirms that the borough is in discussions with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to come to an “amicable solution” regarding the violations. Spiropoulos says he cannot share specifics because a resolution has not yet been reached.

Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke, whose district includes Talkeetna, believes the real goal of the meeting was to make improvements, rather than punish the borough. Kowalke also says he cannot discuss details from the meeting.

Michael Solter, Compliance Program Mangaer for ADEC, says results may take time to manifest, since wastewater remains in the treatment system for more than six months. Solter believes that the state and the borough both recognize the issue and are working in good faith to solve it.

Last November, the ADEC sent a letter to the borough, which operates the Talkeetna sewer and water system, stating that the state intended to begin enforcement actions for numerous violations the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the Talkeetna Sewer Lagoon has consistently been out of compliance on levels of fecal coliform and dissolved oxygen contained in treated water leaving the system and flowing to the Talkeetna River.

The Mat-Su Borough attempted numerous temporary fixes last summer, including skimming grease from the surface of the lagoon, replanting vegetation, and artificially aerating the system. While those efforts did yield results, they were not enough to bring the system fully into compliance.

Further meetings between ADEC and the borough are expected to take place next month.

State offers to meet with borough over Clean Water Act violations

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has started the process of an enforcement action against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

 

 

The violations the state cites are due to inadequate treatment of wastewater from the Talkeetna sewer lagoon. The borough operates the lagoon under an ADEC permit. That permit requires that certain criteria be met in the water that is eventually released into the Talkeetna River.

(more…)

Borough one step closer to selling MV Susitna

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The U.S. State Department has given the Mat-Su Borough the green light to proceed with the sale of the ill-fated MV Susitna. The sale was initially announced in September, but was subject to federal approval.

The borough plans to sell the former naval prototype to the Philippine Red Cross for $1.75 million. Because the buyer is located outside of the United States, federal clearance is required. According to Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos, the State Department informed the borough that the sale is not subject to Department of Defense controls, but export provisions from the Department of Commerce will apply. That means that the final agreement between the borough and the Philippine Red Cross will contain resale restrictions.

(more…)

After Tuesday vote, Halter holds lead in Mat-Su mayoral race

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

After hours of counting and waiting for results after Talkeetna’s AccuVote machine failed, the preliminary results of the Mat-Su Borough election came in just after 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

 

The most-watched race is for Mat-Su Borough Mayor. Incumbent Larry DeVilbiss trailed challenger Vern Halter by 179 votes out of nearly 9,000 total votes cast as of Tuesday night. Halter’s lead was padded by over 100 votes after Talkeetna’s ballots were counted.

 

Three borough assembly seats are up for grabs as well, including District 7, which represents the Upper Valley. Doyle Holmes currently holds a lead of fifty-two votes, despite Talkeetna’s delayed ballots giving opponent Randall Kowalke a significant boost.

 

Debby Retherford and Sarah Welton both ran unopposed for Mat-Su School Board seats A and B, respectively, and late write-in campaigns fell well short of defeating them. Seat E was contested, with Kelsey Trimmer holding more than a 300 vote lead on opponent Wade Long after Tuesday’s votes were counted.

 

Proposition B-1, which would change school board seats to geographic regions as opposed to at-large positions is very likely to pass, with the ‘yes’ votes holding more than a two-to-one advantage as of Tuesday night.

 

Proposition B-2 would change the Mat-Su Borough’s general election date from October to November. After Tuesday, the ‘no’ votes held a lead of over 750 votes.

 

The final ballot question was posed only to residents of Downtown and East Talkeetna, and asked whether East Talkeetna and the river subdivision should be added to the existing Talkeetna Flood Service area. Both areas voted separately, and both votes have to pass for the annexation to take place. Tuesday’s results make it very likely that the question will pass.

 

Over 2,000 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted, and the official results will be announced after they are certified by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly on October 20th.

Efforts at Talkeetna sewer lagoon improve at least one problem area, says borough

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Talkeetna sewer lagoon has had its share of difficulty this year. In July and August, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the treated water was too low, and the amount of fecal coliform bacteria was too high. Now, efforts are underway to try to get the system back into balance.

Terry Dolan, Director of Public Works for the Mat-Su Borough, says that fecal coliform measurements for September are not complete, yet, but that dissolved oxygen is back within compliance. Oxygen is part of the natural process that the lagoon uses to breakdown unwanted bacteria in the treated water. Last month, borough staff began using pumps to introduce more air into the mix in the hopes that the system would come back into compliance. (more…)

Dispute between locals, borough leaves power vacuum at Talkeetna Fire Department

Friday, September 4, 2015

Earlier this year, the Upper Valley lost its Alaska State Trooper post. Now, a rift between local fire responders and the Mat-Su Borough has disrupted the Talkeetna Fire Department. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

 

 

A disagreement between local and borough fire officials has left the Talkeetna Fire Department without either of its senior officers, and with residents wondering what the response capability of the department is.

 

The dispute centers on when responders are subject to the chain of command. After a trailer rolled over on the Parks Highway with no injuries, Talkeetna Fire Captain Eric Chappel went to the scene. In his mind, Chappel was not acting as a borough responder but a private citizen. He says he offered to use his own vehicle and equipment to right the trailer, but was denied by Deputy Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley, who was also at the scene. Barkley believes that Chappel was acting as a borough responder, since he said over the radio that he was on his way to the scene. Ultimately, another motorist used his truck to set the trailer upright with Chappel’s assistance. Afterwards, Barkley told Chappel that he could not respond to future calls until they had a meeting to discuss the issue.

 

That meeting never happened, and Chappel went public, posting his version of events on Facebook. That led to the dispute being the main focus of Thurday’s meeting of the Susitna Community Council. (more…)

Borough takes additional measures as Talkeetna sewer lagoon remains out of compliance

Thursday, September 3, 2015
Pumps installed at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon to introduce more oxygen into the system.  Photo:  Terry Dolan - Mat-Su Borough

Pumps installed at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon to introduce more oxygen into the system. Photo: Mark Cowley – Mat-Su Borough

Citing test results for August that continue to be out of compliance, officials in charge of the Talkeetna sewer system are taking additional steps they hope will improve treatment. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

 

Last month, KTNA reported that the water flowing out of Talkeetna’s sewage treatment lagoon was outside of compliance for its permit for the amount of fecal coliform present. In August, fecal coliform remains out of compliance, at about five times the allowed level. While high, that number is down from July’s results, which were nearly seven times the permitted limit.

 

Terry Dolan is the Director of Public Works for the Mat-Su Borough, which oversees the system. He says that, while there has been measurable progress, it hasn’t been enough.

 

“So what that means is the repairs and the additional work that we’ve done previously this summer are insufficient, at least insufficient to help the lagoons recover fast enough to satisfy me.”

 

Now, what the borough has begun doing to try to improve the situation is aeration. Dolan says that pumps have been installed in the lagoons that circulate wastewater, and then spray it through the air back into the lagoon. He says that introducing more air into the mix can help break down unwanted bacteria.

 

“Spraying through the air and the splashing action of the water as it mixes back into the lagoon helps mix additional oxygen into the water. That oxygen helps encourage the growth of bacteria that’s aerobic, and it displaces the bad bacteria that we’re trying to get out of the water in the treatment system.”

 

What Terry Dolan and his staff do not know yet is whether the aeration will be made permanent. He says the system is designed so that it shouldn’t need artificial means to introduce oxygen, and that it’s possible that the system could stabilize again. They will be waiting on this month’s test results to see what needs to happen next.

 

“If the September numbers and we’re not satisfied with the progress we’re making, we’re going to more than likely add additional aeration at that point.”

 

Dolan says it’s clear that, in its current state, the sewer treatment system cannot handle the volume that it receives in the busy summer months. If the system cannot be re-stabilized, then a more permanent solution will be necessary. Funding then becomes the major obstacle if that is the case.

 

“We haven’t made a decision on that, a long term decision, at this point. Of course, the big challenge with these lagoons is funding. The revenue stream from sewer and water subscribers isn’t really sufficient to do any capital improvements on this.”

 

The borough has applied for state funds to address the Talkeetna lagoon, but Terry Dolan says the state’s budget woes prevented that. He says there are other options, such as the Alaska Clean Water Fund, and that those options are being explored in case permanent fixes are necessary. Until then, borough staff is hoping that the current measures will make it so that the system can function on its own again.

 

 

Talkeetna sewer system exceeds permit limits in July, but borough says progress is being made

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When the Mat-Su Borough submits July’s fecal coliform measurements for the Talkeetna sewer lagoon, they will be out of compliance with their permit, but the head of the Borough’s Public Works Division says that progress is being made toward bringing that number down.

Back in May, the Mat-Su Borough was issued a notice of violation from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for missing records for the Talkeetna sewer lagoon. According to both the borough and ADEC, the records were being kept, but were not on the correct form, meaning that some data was not making it into the state’s database. As a result, it appeared as if the records were missing. Now, both the borough and state say that the correct forms have been submitted, and the paperwork violations have been resolved.

Where there are still struggles for Talkeetna’s sewer lagoon is in the treatment of the sewage itself. According to Terry Dolan, Public Works Director for the Mat-Su Borough, the lagoon’s fecal coliform numbers came back at more than seven times the allowed amount when tested last month. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, while fecal coliform is not particularly hazardous on its own, high levels could indicate contamination by other pathogens associated with human waste.

Terry Dolan says that, while the amount of fecal coliform is higher than permit requirements, there has been progress. July’s numbers are close to measurements taken in September of last year.

Terry Dolan says the problems the sewer lagoon is experiencing are the result of a number of issues over time. He says the borough has taken steps this summer to help get the lagoon back into compliance. Those steps include skimming duckweed and grease off of the lagoon’s surface and replanting the wetlands that act as part of the treatment process. Dolan says that duckweed and oils can prevent oxygen transfer, part of the natural process that the lagoon uses to break down fecal coliform and other bacteria. Vegetation can also prevent penetration by ultraviolet light, which is also part of the treatment process.

The Talkeetna sewer lagoon is on a self-reporting system. Samples are taken and tested where the water flows into a slough leading to the Talkeetna River. The results are then sent to ADEC, who control’s the lagoon’s permit. Now that the sampling data is complete and in the correct format, the state is assessing the information, according to ADEC Enforcement Officer Kara Kusche, who wrote the notice of violation to the borough in May. Kusche says that ADEC has a system of escalating enforcement that begins with letters, and then moves to notices of violation. In cases where problems persist, she says further escalation could mean fines or monitored action plans. As of right now, the Talkeetna sewer lagoon has not moved into the more escalated forms of enforcement.

Terry Dolan says the borough is prepared to take more drastic measures to bring the fecal coliform measurements into compliance, potentially including temporary artificial aeration using borrowed equipment from the City of Palmer. He says the ultimate goal is to get the lagoon back to compliance levels in the hope that the system will be able to sustain itself once again once the high levels of bacteria are diminished. Whether or not that step is taken will depend on the measurements taken this month.

Mat-Su Borough election field begins to take shape

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

This October, voters in the Mat-Su Borough will choose their mayor, three school board members, and three assembly members, including the seat that represents the Upper Valley. Thus far, four candidates have registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission to run for borough office, which allows their campaigns to both receive and spend funds.

Two candidates have registered with the state as candidates for Mayor of the Mat-Su Borough. Larry DeVilbiss, the current mayor, has registered to seek re-election.   Vern Halter, who currently sits on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly representing District 7, has also registered with APOC to run for mayor. Halter is not eligible to run to retain his assembly seat due to term limits.

Willow resident Randall Kowalke has registered to run for the Borough Assembly seat that Halter is vacating. Wasilla resident Robert Doyle has also registered to run for the assembly, although for a different seat.

Three individuals have filed letters of intent with the state, which allows them to receive campaign donations, but not to spend them, and the state does not officially consider them candidates, yet.

Sarah Welton of Wasilla has filed a letter of intent to seek re-election to the Mat-Su School Board. The other two letters of intent, one filed by Erick Giorgiana of Palmer and one with the candidate name “Exploratory,” but filed by Roger Purcell of Houston, do not specify the office they might eventually run for.

While all candidates may currently, the borough’s candidate registration will take place from July 20th through the 31st.  The Mat-Su Borough election will be held on October 6th.