An additional $5 million for the Wrangell junkyard cleanup was on the chopping block this last night. Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole proposed an amendment to SB 142 to cut funds allocated in the state’s capital budget. But, the House Finance Committee struck down that measure with a 7-4 vote Friday.
The $5 million is meant to clean up the Byford Junkyard, where 18,000 cubic yards of lead-contaminated soil still sit. The soil has been treated with a stabilizing agent.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has already allocated $14 million for the cleanup. The additional funds would help ship the waste off the island, rather than the ADEC proposed site on the island.
The ADEC had planned to move the waste to a rockpit about a thousand feet away from Pat’s Creek, which is a popular recreation site and fishing stream. The local tribe, borough assembly and other concerned residents have spoken out against that site. They instead advocate to ship the waste off island, at a higher price to the state. Gov. Bill Walker requested that additional funds be included in the capital budget to meet the concerns of many in the community.
ADEC says their proposed on-island site is safe, but the agency would complete an off-island cleanup if funds were made available.
Rep. Wilson requested to take away the additional funding. She said it would set a precedent that community concerns would override the expertise and protocol of the state agency.
“It doesn’t matter what the cost is or the safety is because we’ve now decided that how the community feels and what their concerns are to move it, even if it’s not true and that site is safe, will mean more than policy as it’s been set thus far,” Wilson said.
The ADEC told the House Finance Committee earlier this week that its protocol is to clean up sites with the most cost-conscious option in mind. That’s why the agency needs the go ahead within the upcoming capital budget to fund an off-island option. The funds would come from the Oil and Hazardous Substance Release Prevention and Response, which is part of the Designated General Fund.
Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan, and Wrangell’s representative, spoke in favor of the funding.
“If you can think about whether or not Chena Lakes in the Fairbanks / North Pole area, or whether or not Sand Lake in Anchorage, or over here Auke Lake in Juneau, how the residents there would feel about a disposal site being put right in a main recreation area like the lakes I just spoke of,” Ortiz said. “That’s what we’re talking about here.”
Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks agreed, saying “Just because you delete the money, do not remove the responsibility from DEC to the local community … using the quarry might be the easier step, but the community has spoken.”
Wilson also acknowledged the concerns of a local contractor who has been working on the cleanup project. Brett Woodbury of BW Enterprises said he, and other locals employed by the project, would be negatively impacted by switching to an off-island cleanup. He said he may potentially not recoup costs for work he has already done.
The House Finance Committee voted (7-4) to maintain the full $5 million funding. The capital budget will go to the Senate and House for a vote potentially this weekend or next week.