By Russell Stigall
For the Seward City News
SEWARD – It’s a dusty road ahead for Jim Pruitt’s Resurrection Bay shipyard.
Seward Ships Drydock recently earned another Department of Environmental Conservation Notice of Violation for fugitive dust, its third.
DEC Air Quality division issued Seward Ships the latest violation earlier this month in response to contaminated dust that sometimes blows off site when the dry dock sandblasts paint off of vessels. Seward Ships gets much of its business from the US Coast Guard, Alaska Marine Highway and Foss Marine.
“Many large vessels and barges go through the facility that simply won’t fit in the open-ended tent structure that they currently use for sheltering their operations,As long as sandblasting and painting occur open to the elements waste will continue to migrate offsite,” ,”Even though a structure to fully contain USCG vessels and state ferries was required in the original lease, this requirement has yet to be fulfilled”. “We are hopeful that this report will provide the evidence that the city and the various divisions of DEC have been lacking to move forward to amend this issue,” said Russ Maddox of Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance.
Seward Ships has contaminated its site with tributyltin, copper and many other pollutants,” according to EPA’s Preliminary Assessment and Site Investigation Report
Senator Loren Leman, R-Anchorage sponsored a successful bill that outlawed TBT in Alaska in 2000.
“TBT-based marine anti-fouling paints are used on the hulls of ships to prevent the attachment of barnacles and algae. Unfortunately, research has shown that TBT paints are very poisonous to certain forms of sea life, especially shellfish. Over time TBT paint leaches off vessels and damages shellfish, even at very low levels of exposure,” said Leman.
TBT has also been found to damage the reproductive and nervous systems, endocrine glands, skeletal structure and gastrointestinal tract of mammals. Alaska Fish and Game reports indicate TBT has been found in sea otters in both Seward and Valdez.
A global moratorium outlawing TBT takes effects in six weeks. The U.S. has yet to add its signature.
Seward Ships has a $1 million pollution bond in its lease with the city.
The bond can be used for clean up and to assure Seward Ships meets best management practices.
“There’s enough money in bond to do what has to be done,” Corbridge said.
Corbridge said the city and the council would first need to get familiar with the issue.
“Get ourselves to an educated stage, scientifically,” Corbridge said.
Corbridge said the city has an attorney working on a spectrum of options.
“From do nothing, to the shut them down option,” Corbridge said. “Probably pick something in between those two extremes.”
The city will know more in a week, Corbridge said.
The city of Seward owns the ground underneath and nearby Seward Ships.
“We lease it to Jim Pruitt,” Corbridge said. This adds to the complexity of the legal issues that surround Seward Ships’ relationship with environmental regulators.
Corbridge said the lease has environmental requirements,. But the lease has very general language.
Corbridge said the city will have to feed the EPA report through the city’s contract with Jim Pruitt’s company.
“We don’t want to shut down a business,” Corbridge said.
The city will work with “EPA and ADEC to make sure [Pruitt} is doing what he has promised to do," Corbridge said.
Only after we have that information in hand can we actually go and start remediation or whatever is appropriate for the city, Corbridge said.
Absent from the EPA report was the agency's designation of the polluted Seward Ships site as a Superfund site. Seward may have benefited from access to federal cleanup money if the dry dock had qualified.
Demographics and population density kept Seward Ships off the Superfund list, Maddox said.
"3,077 souls within four miles was not enough," Maddox said.
Though the Environmental Protection Agency did not list the dry dock site as a superfund Maddox said the ADEC and EPA investigate Seward Ships still.
"This report raised many new concerns," Maddox said. A key element missing in ADEC's and EPA's investigations was supplied by the recent report, confirmed contamination at the shipyard. This report provides the body of evidence they need to proceed.
Alaska Assistant Attorney General Steve Ross and Bob Morgan of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation came to Seward to meet with city officials and concerned locals about the dry dock, Tuesday.
The EPA said it will work with ADEC on Best Management Practices for the dry dock. Best Management Practices are "actions required, by law, to keep soil and other pollutants out of streams and lakes," according to the Idaho Forest Products Commission.
Maddox of the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance and also Communities for Democracy in Alaska has been the prime motivator of the ship lift issue since August 2004 when TBT laden waste was dumped next door to his home and business. In 2001, Maddox's home and land were contaminated with lead ash from an illegal fire. Since then Maddox has worked with ADEC and EPA on many of Alaska's environmental issues, including non-compliant shipyards.
Rather than seal its waste off from wind, snow and rain Seward Ships allows its wastes to wash off site.
"The intertidal sediments at the site change with each tidal cycle," Maddox said.
Extreme weather and tides actually wash the pollutants into Resurrection Bay, Maddox said.
Without the creation of effective containment for all waste generating activities this waste too will wind up in our bay, Maddox said.
Petroleum, copper and TBT are the main elements of concern in Seward.
This is a perfect example of corporate privilege usurping citizens' rights," Maddox said. "Resulting in environmental degradation and unnecessary risks to human health."
DJ Whitman, Seward Ships Drydock manager said that though investigators found elevated levels of some items around the facility he was nonplused by EPA's report.
"There is no future action required, there is nothing there," Whitman said.
However, Whitman said, he does have to adapt to the regulatory environment.
"Compliance is an ongoing thing," Whitman said. "Regulation changes regularly."
Whitman said EPA compliance is a black and white issue.
"You either have complied or you haven't. I've complied with what they asked me," Whitman said.
Test results indicate the shipyard's site is covered with even layer contaminated sandblast waste and petroleum residue.
Clean-up of the dry dock site could cost well over $1 million.