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Energy & Environment

North Pole Sues Past, Present Refinery Owners Over Groundwater Contamination

KUAC file photo

The city of North Pole has filed a lawsuit against the past and present owners of the refinery that leaked the industrial solvent sulfolane into the area’s groundwater.

North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward says the suit Wednesday in Superior Court seeks damages to cover the costs of cleaning up the sulfolane and compensation for the harm it’s caused to the area’s economy.

“It is for damages due to the sulfolane contamination, and resolution of that,” he said.

Ward said Friday the city wants those costs to be paid for by the two companies that have most recently owned the refinery. The present owner is Flint Hills Resources Alaska, which closed the facility last summer and is now operating a portion of it as a fuel terminal. The previous owner is Oklahoma-based Williams Alaska Petroleum.

The lawsuit blames both Flint Hills and Williams for the contamination.

Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook repeated his company’s claim Friday that Williams is responsible for the contamination.

“The contamination alleged by the city of North Pole is caused by the prior owner,” Cook said. “And the record is clear on that.”

Flint Hills officials have stated repeatedly that the company reported the sulfolane contamination had spread beyond the refinery’s property line a few months after it bought the facility from Williams in 2004.

Cook’s response also cited Flint Hills’ efforts to provide clean sources of drinking water to North Pole residents.

Ward acknowledges those efforts by Flint Hills. He says the City Council decided to file the lawsuit last Monday after months of deliberation to ensure North Pole’s concerns would be represented in ongoing legal and administrative actions in response to the contamination. Those include a review of a cleanup level for sulfolane, and lawsuits filed by the state against the two companies. The companies also are suing each other and the state.

“Resolution is the big issue, of the contamination. And then who’s responsible for that,” the mayor said.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, but only from Williams. Officials with that company could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.