The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is watching the situation developing with threatened fuel tanks at Napakiak. The U.S. Coast Guard ordered the Lower Kuskokwim School District to move the school’s estimated 36,000 gallons of diesel fuel away from the eroding Kuskokwim riverbank by the end of the month. DEC will determine if more action is needed to treat the site.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is joining the U.S. Coast Guard in overseeing the fuel transfer.
"We’re going to be working hand in glove with the Coast Guard," said Bernie Nowicki, DEC Environmental Program Specialists Supervisor for Western Alaska.
It's unusal for the DEC to provide this supervision. "But this seems to be a special case," Nowicki said. "It’s got the concerns from the community, concerns from the state and the Coast Guard, so we need to have a presence there."
By the end of the month, Nowicki says that the DEC will test the ground around the fuel tanks and determine if the school district needs to clean the soil before it erodes into the river. According to Coast Guard measurments, the riverbank sits 76 feet from the fuel tanks and fall storms are approaching, which could cause more erosion. If the soil needs to be cleaned, it would most likely be done through land spreading. The process is common in rural Alaska.
“Basically land spreading," Nowicki explained, "is an area they’ll find away from everything that’s kind of isolated, and they spread the soil no thicker than six inches, and they allow those volatiles to basically vaporize out of that soil over a couple seasons.”
The Napakiak school was built in 1973, but records of fuel spills only go back to the 1990s. Since then, documents show that roughly 495 gallons of fuel have spilled around the school’s tanks. Those spills were all cleaned in compliance with state standards.