The state had plans to start relocating dump truck loads of lead contaminated soil to a rock pit in Wrangell by April 1st. But the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says it’s still looking into other options. This uncertainty comes amidst pressure from the local tribe to locate the dump site far away from a fishing stream and popular recreation site. 

The state had partially cleaned up the abandoned Byford junkyard that for decades stored old cars. That waste was hauled off the island, but there’s still 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil to deal with.

The original plan was to ship it south. But to cut back on costs, the state planned to haul the soil to a rock pit on the island a quarter of a mile from Pat’s Creek. When the announcement was made last summer, the city, tribe and some residents were up in arms. They said they weren’t involved enough in the state’s decision-making.

The state says the site is a safe bet because it’s not connected to the creek. The soil has also been treated with EcoBond, which keeps run-off water from becoming contaminated.

Last fall, the city assembly and tribe agreed to push against the state conservation agency’s plan.

Since then the Wrangell Cooperative Association, has looked for alternative on-island dump sites, including those already reviewed by the city, state and federal Environmental Protection Agency. These include a rock pit near Spur Road, the running track and sites further out Pat’s Creek Road. The state came to Wrangell earlier this year to assess the proposed sites, but said none fit the bill.

Chris Hatton work for the environmental branch of the tribe.

“One of the biggest challenges we found was slope, because the site they’re looking for has to have a fairly low gradient,” said Hatton. “Also there’s a lot of muskeg and watershed areas. Which can get pretty complicated and time consuming when it comes to getting permitting from the Corps. of Engineers.”

Other factors were the access to and size of the sites.

Still, the state’s clean-up plans are not finalized, says unit manager for the state’s contaminated sites program Sally Schlichting.  Just last week the state visited Wrangell again to speak with the tribe and inspect the rock pit near Pat’s Lake. Schlichting says the state hopes to finalize its plan in the upcoming weeks.

Even with a tight deadline and hurdles, the tribe still maintains its position. Esther Ashton is the tribe’s administrator.

“We have not deviated from our plan to find an alternative site or to be able to assist in the process of finding funding to ship it off island,” said Ashton. “We are not deviating from that whatsoever.”

City staff and assembly members say that even if the soil ends up near Pat’s Lake, they want to be involved in monitoring the site. The city assembly will discuss the cleanup at its general meeting today. Members may formulate a letter to send to the state.

According to a city memo, the Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner is set to meet with Gov. Bill Walker on this matter.