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Final cleanup at Alaska junkyard delayed to weigh options

Posted September 8

— The state is postponing final cleanup plans at a former junkyard in southeast Alaska to see if funding can be secured for an alternate disposal site in the Lower 48.

Plans have called for building a site on state-owned land on Wrangell Island to dispose of the treated, lead-contaminated soil. Wrangell Island is more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Juneau.

But the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced it was delaying those plans until April 1 to allow time for exploring other ideas and funding.

This came after the Wrangell Cooperative Association, a local tribe, cited concerns about not having been consulted, said Sally Schlichting, contaminated sites manager with the department.

Tribal officials were not immediately available for comment Friday.

Schlichting said agency officials regretted not contacting the tribe. But she said they thought the tribe had been informed about the project through communications with the City and Borough of Wrangell and through borough manager reports.

Preparation for the proposed new disposal site on Wrangell Island is expected to continue in case additional money for another option is not secured. The state is leaving it to community leaders to explore any other options, Schlichting said.

According to the state, the junkyard operated from the 1960s through the late 1990s before being sold to a new owner who abandoned it after barging out marketable salvaged metal. Both of those individuals are now dead, Schlichting said.

The remnant debris included hundreds of batteries and sat on what officials considered a hazardous waste site with heavy lead contamination.

The preferred option was to ship the removed, treated material to a hazardous waste facility in Oregon. But the volume of material involved was significantly higher than the initial estimate, making that option, at roughly $12 million, too expensive, she said.

The estimated cost to build and secure a local site and to haul the material is $5.7 million, though Schlichting said that is likely to grow somewhat because of the delay.

The state contends the material can be disposed of safely on the island and that it would providing monitoring, including periodic groundwater tests.

The treated material, for now, remains at the old junk site. Schlichting said it cannot stay there long term because that location does not meet regulatory requirements and the property is exposed to strong winds and storms. It is currently secure, she said.

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