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Cleanup Under Way at Sites Along Old Pipeline that Brought Fuel to Interior’s Military Bases

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Cleanup work began this month at a mothballed pump station near Delta Junction that was part of the old Haines to Fairbanks Pipeline. Crews will remove contaminated materials from the Timber Pump Station and two other sites that were part of an old Army-operated pipeline built in the 1950s to transport fuel to the Interior’s three military bases.

The workat the old pump station near Quartz Lake includes removing soil, equipment and materiel that were used to help transport fuel from Haines to Eielson Air Force Base, Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely while the pipeline was operating from 1954 to 1973.

Army Corps of Engineers project manager Beth Astley says most of 4,000 cubic yards of soil that’ll be excavated from the Timber Pump Station was contaminated with the byproducts of burning waste oil in an old disposal pit.

“That is the worst of the contamination at that location,” she said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says the greatest concentration of contaminants was found a few feet below the burn pit. DECsays tainted soil was found elsewhere around the 5-acre site, both on the surface and underground, down to 22 feet, where contaminated groundwater was found. Astley says the Corps of Engineers doesn’t know how much fuel leaked around the pump station over those two decades, because no single major release was ever reported.

Credit U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska
This 59,000-gallon above-ground fuel tank at the Timber Pump Station and piping, valves and other fittings will be removed or capped during the cleanup.

“Because there was no catastrophic leak, we can’t really come up with a quantity,” she said. “You know, several different locations around the pump station appeared to have small amounts of fuel entering the soil.

Astley says the project contractor – Anchorage-based Bristol Environmental Remediation Services – also will remove three above-ground fuel-storage tanks, the largest of which held up to 59,000 gallons. Also, two underground storage tanks and more than 3,000 feet of above- and below-ground pipes used to move fuel around facility and up the line to Eielson and Wainwright.

“So all of those pipelines are being drained and either removed or, where they can’t be removed, they’re being capped and sealed,” she said.

Astley says the cleanup contractor began work on the $3.2 million project at the Timber Pump Station on June 29, right after it had finished work at another old Haines-to-Fairbanks Pipeline facility at Scottie Creek, near the Alaska-Canada border. In September, the contractor will begin cleaning up a third site included in the project, an old tank farm near Birch Lake.

Credit Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
The 8-inch pipeline transported fuel 626 miles from Haines to Fairbanks from 1954 until it was shut down in 1973. It was used to transfer four types of fuels during that period: aviation fuel, jet fuel, gasoline and diesel.

“The actual work won’t begin until after Labor Day, due to the fact that the area is close to the Birch Lake State Recreation Site,” she said, “and we don’t want to interfere with Labor Day use of the recreation site.”

The cleanup site is located on the south side of the lake, near a military recreation area. Two big fuel tanks that held up to 277,000 gallons have been removed from the site, along with associated piping and fueling equipment. But Astley says more testing will have to be done to determine how much soil was contaminated and will have to be removed.

“Until we actually get in there and start digging the soil out and determine the full nature and extent what’s at Birch Lake, it’s hard to tell if we’ll be able to completely remove all the contaminated soil this fall.”

Astley says the Army also is trying to wrap up remediation at three other Haines-to-Fairbanks Pipeline sites, at Tok; Sears Creek near Dot Lake; and the big fuel terminal at Haines. She says once that’s done, the Army will have cleaned up 40 sites so far, with 10 remaining.

Editor's note: This story was revised to correct the original story's reference to the Army Corps of Engineers overseeing cleanups at Sears Creek, Tok Terminal and Haines Fuel Terminal. Those Army Environmental Command projects are being managed through the Fort Wainwright Directorate of Public Works Environmental Restoration Program.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.