FHRA and the state of Alaska announced that they will be working with the city of North Pole to significantly expand their piped public water system.
In 2009, sulfolane was detected in drinking water wells near the North Pole Refinery, about 15 mi. east of Fairbanks. Under DEC oversight, Flint Hills Resources Alaska (FHRA), owner of the refinery, responded quickly by providing affected residents and businesses with alternative drinking water and initiating an extensive characterization effort. The sulfolane groundwater plume is currently approximately 2 mi. wide, 3.5 mi. long and more than 300 ft. deep, and continuing to migrate to the north-northwest.
FHRA and the state of Alaska announced on Feb. 7th, 2017, that they will be working with the city of North Pole to significantly expand their piped public water system to provide sulfolane-free drinking water to residents impacted by the sulfolane groundwater plume. The agreement allotted for up to $100 million in project costs, along with a $1 million Operations Fund to the city of North Pole to fund the initial operation and maintenance of the finished pipeline system. Interim allocation for funding the project is split, with FHRA paying 80 percent and the state of Alaska paying 20 percent.
“This is the biggest public works project in the city of North Pole's history,” said Bill Butler, North Pole director of city services.
The vast majority of North Pole residents have wells, but others have water delivered to their holding tanks, or they haul the water themselves. While hook-up to the new system is voluntary, it will provide a safe drinking water option to those who have impurities in their water.
Stantec, an international engineering firm with a local office in Fairbanks, was contracted to design the piped water system expansion. The bid for construction of the 35 mi. of pipeline was won by Exclusive Paving for $52.1 million. According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Exclusive was not the lowest bidder, but rather chosen on the criteria of the bidders' qualifications, past performance, management plan, safety record and claims history along with the project cost.
The design phase of the North Pole piped water expansion project began shortly after the February 2017 agreement. The Stantec engineers worked with a steering committee, including representatives from FHRA, the state, and the city of North Pole, to prepare the design documents for the project. The design was completed in October and received engineering review by the DEC Drinking Water Program. The city of North Pole will be the contract manager for the construction phase and is currently evaluating proposals for the project, with construction slated to begin in spring 2018.
The expansion area includes the Garden, Riddle Estates, Poodle, Pine Stream, Steelhead and Sorores subdivisions. Most of the easements necessary for new piping trenching already exist; however, there are a number of new easements to be acquired. Land has been purchased for an additional water reservoir and pump station along Badger Road. The majority of the 35 mi. of new pipe will be constructed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Stantec is working with a subcontractor, R&M Consultants, on right-of-way acquisition throughout the project area.
Construction will take place in four phases, plus upgrades to the water treatment plant and pump house/reservoir. The first phases occur in Zones 1 and 2 and began in February with the delivery of pipe, surveying and land clearing. Crews began trenching and horizontal boring in March to minimize impact to the surrounding wetlands and avoid the need to mitigate in the summer.
Construction phase details will be worked out between the construction contractor and the city of North Pole. While the system will be installed throughout 2018 and 2019, it will not be operational and providing public service until 2019/2020.
With expansion of the piped water system, the alternative water supply (AWS) program is being phased out. Alternative water will continue to be provided to properties with sulfolane detections and properties potentially in the migration path of the sulfolane plume until the expanded piped water system is available for connection. DEC will continue regulatory oversight.