North Pole Considers Groundwater-protection Measure, Prepares to Expand Water System

Aug 21, 2017

The North Pole City Council tonight will consider awarding a contract to an engineering company to develop a plan intended to protect the community’s groundwater from contamination. The mayor says the plan is needed to ensure the city will be able to expand its municipal water system to areas where the groundwater already is contaminated.


The North Pole City Council on Monday will consider a measure to protect two wells the city uses to help supply water to about 600 customers. The city will expand its water system next year to about 600 additional customers who can no longer get water from private wells because they're located in areas where the groundwater has been contaminated by an industrial solvent that leaked from the refinery most recently owned by Flint Hills Resources.
Credit City of North Pole

North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward says the ordinance before the council would award a nearly $29,000 contract to PDC Engineers to develop a so-called Source Water Protection Plan. The plan would among other things enable the city to regulate use of land around the wells that help supply water for its 600 municipal-system customers.

“For instance, is it appropriate for houses to have private water wells adjacent to or near those (municipal) wells?” he said. “Or, is it appropriate to have septic systems close-by to those wells?”

Ward says developing the plan is an important step the city needs to take now, because the owners of the vacant land around the wells want to develop it. And he says the city wants to place limits on the kinds of development that could be done there, to ensure it won’t harm groundwater.

“Right now, I think the primary desire for that area is residential,” he said. “So, do we allow private water wells and private septic systems? Or do you require that any development in that area be connected to a municipal system?

The mayor says the Source Water Protection Plan also is an important step the city needs to take before it expands its system next year into areas where the groundwater already has been contaminated with the industrial solvent sulfolane. The substance leaked for years from the now-shut-down Flint Hills Resources oil refinery.

The expansion of North Pole's water system, scheduled to begin next year, will include projects in several areas around town.
Credit Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

“The sulfolane project will almost double our existing customer base,” he said. “So instead of 600, we potentially could have 1,200 or more customers.”

Ward says work on the first two phases of that expansion project would be built next year, and phases 3 and 4 in 2019. Flint Hills has agreed to pay 80 percent of the cost of that system, which is estimated at about 100 million dollars. The state would pay the remaining 20 percent.

Ward says the city also may end up extending its water system to Moose Creek, if the Air Force chooses that option for dealing with groundwater contamination in that area caused by perfluorinated compounds from Eielson Air Force Base that have infiltrated area groundwater.

“The Air Force has to decide what they would like to do with that,” he said, “and then they also have to find funding.”

If the Air Force does agree to expand the North Pole water system to Moose Creek, Ward says he expects work on that wouldn’t begin until 2020 at the earliest.

The mayor says anyone interested in offering comments on the Source Water Protection Plan ordinance will have two opportunities – at tonight’s meeting and the next one, on Sept. 4, when the council will consider final approval.