North Pole voters to consider two city water-system ballot measures
Prop 1 and 2 would enable planning for PFAS contamination, replacement of old, leaky water mains
North Pole voters will considertwo ballot propositions to monitor the city’s water for new contaminants and to replace the oldest part of its water system that’s leaking badly. North Pole’s mayor says state officials have agreed to forgive the two loans to pay for the work if the city meets requirements.
Propositions 1 and 2 will ask North Pole residents to approve the city accepting state loans that would pay for study and design work to help solve two problems with its water system.
Prop 1 asks voters to agree to the city accepting a $1.5 million federal loan through the Alaska Division of Water State Revolving Fund to monitor for contaminants, especially those in a group of chemical compounds collectively known by their acronym PFAS.
“We call that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” explains Mike Welch, North Pole’s mayor.
Welch says if approved, the loan also would help the city begin monitoring and mitigating other so-called emerging contaminants.
“Those contaminants are not limited to PFAS,” he said, “but other things like organic pollutants, and biologicals and microorganisms, compounds of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.”
Welch says city officials are asking voters to approve the loan because of increased state and federal regulation of those substances. And also, growing local concern over a plume of PFAS groundwater contamination that originated on Eielson Air Force Base and is moving downgradient toward North Pole.
“The issue here is that the plume, the PFAS-PFOA plume, is actually coming this way,” he said.
If voters pass the measure, Welch says the study and design work may recommend construction of a facility to treat water to remove contaminants. That could include other substances like sulfolane, an industrial solvent that leaked for years from the now-mothballed Flint Hills Resources Refinery.
If voters pass Prop 1, the city would pay just under $87,000 annually out of the general fund over 20 years. But he said that shouldn’t be necessary, because the state has assured city officials that they’d cover the loan.
“Of course it’s been stated they would reimburse 100 percent,” he said. “But we still have to go through the formality of asking the taxpayers to approve that.”
The mayor says state officials made the same offer for the second loan that North Pole is asking voters to approve under Proposition 2. If passed, the city would borrow $653,000 to develop a plan and design work for replacing eight miles of aging, leaky, thin-gauge stainless-steel pipes in the oldest part of the water-main distribution system.
“The downtown loop, in the core of the old city -- that real thin stainless steel pipe was put in 52 years ago, in 1971,” he said, adding that those pipes are badly rusted and riddled with numerous leaks.
“We have constant leaks that are significant,” Welch said.
He says if North Pole voters approve Prop 2, the city would repay the 20-year loan with monthly payments of nearly $38,000 out of a water department fund that utility customers pay into every month. But Welch says officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is overseeing that loan program, have assured him they’ll forgive that loan if the city meets the requirements.
“You have to show that your citizens accepted this,” he said, “and in return, once it’s proven that we did our due diligence and the citizens said ‘Oh, by all means!’, then you get those loans forgiven.”
North Pole residents who have questions about the ballot propositions can call City Hall and talk with City Services Director Danny Wallace.
Also on Oct. 3rd, North Pole voters will consider three candidates vying for two open City Council seats. They are Larry Terch, Ellen Glab, and Benjamin Williams Junior.