Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Investigation: Railroad Dump Site Causing Water Quality Problems
Rusted railroad cars, abandoned vehicles, fuel cans, and scrap metal are among the items found at an active dump site just feet away from the Matanuska River.
According to the state and federal governments, there are dozens of bodies of water throughout Alaska that are contaminated.
The worst ones are classified as Category 5, and a portion of the Matanuska River near Palmer is currently listed as such because it has failed multiple water quality assessments, according to the state.
But as the Eye Team found, there seems to be a discrepancy over what should be done with a dump site that, according to a state report, poses an immediate threat to drinking water.
An active dump site is located just feet from the rushing waters of the Matanuska River.
In it are rusted railroad cars, as many as twenty vehicles, household items, fuel cans, 55-gallon drums, and scrap metal.
The Alaska Railroad owns it, and a 2004 report by an environmental consultant estimates there is as much as 400 tons of debris at the site.
Alaska’s 2010 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, published by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, calls the dumpsite not only an “immediate threat to the surface water quality of the Matanuska River,” but also says it has the potential to contaminate at least three public water systems.
Alaska Railroad officials refused to comment on camera, but did send the Eye Team a pair of faxes with excerpts from reports from 2004 and 2005.
In one, an environmental consulting group said the best solution for the site would be to do nothing.
The report says the railroad cars serve as erosion control, and taking them out would only cause further erosion of the riverbank. It also says any cleanup would be very costly.
Still, in DEC’s 2010 report, the state says the site does need to be cleaned up.
Railroad spokesperson Stephanie Wheeler says there is no record of the DEC asking the company to clean up the debris, but says the Alaska Railroad intends to work with the DEC on a solution.
A DEC official who helped write the 2010 report tells the Eye Team there have been multiple meetings with the railroad corporation about removing any debris above the high water mark at the dumpsite because it serves no erosion control purpose.
In the meantime, leadership within the city of Palmer says they will be investigating the extent of the possible contamination, and its effects on their drinking water, on their own.