Noxious Black Smoke Alert

Today at 1:30 pm, Orion Marine Contractors DBA West Construction began burning the first pile of dunnage and debris from the old harbor float system on AK Railroad Corporation property east of Sea Lion Avenue. Christy Terry, Manager of the AKRC Seward Dock Operations, said that West Construction was required to obtain all the necessary permits, including the City burn permit.

Over hour later, the large burn pile was still generating clouds of thick, black smoke. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Air Quality Division, this is NOT allowed.  Furthermore, it is illegal to open burn  wood treated with creosote, whether railroad ties or a harbor wooden float. The black smoke is considered carcinogenic and hazardous by the EPA and ADEC.

Seward Fire Chief Eddie Athey stated this was supposed to be clean wood waste from the harbor float system. He did not know why it was generating black smoke, or why it had not been hauled to the Seward Transfer Facility for disposal at the designated burn site. The staff at the Seward Transfer Facility is checking into any possible requests by West Construction to dispose of this material. ADEC is researching the burn permits and black smoke complaints.

This first burn pile is scheduled to be completed by tonight; the second pile is scheduled to be burned tomorrow. Chief Athey stated that if the fire department receives three complaints about this burn, they will shut it down. The Seward Fire Department phone number is 224-3445.

If you are concerned about Seward’s air quality, about burning large quantities of questionable wood waste in the heart of our town, noxious black smoke and its impacts on the health of our citizens and environment, please call the Fire Department at 224-3445 to voice your concerns. That second pile should not be allowed to burn.


Carol Griswold






  1. To educate everyone on the correct Alaska Air Quality Regulations regarding open burning and black smoke:

    18 AAC 50.065(b) …open burning of
    asphalts, rubber products, plastics, tars, oils, oily wastes,contaminated oil cleanup materials, or other materials in a way that gives off black smoke is
    prohibited without written department approval.

    1) This does not say anything about burning wood treated with creosote, though it can be implied by the rule.
    2) The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation allows burning of oily wastes under certain circumstances, with prior approval. This does not mean it is completely prohibited as stated in the above article.

    Would you rather the creosote docks be buried in a landfill and allowed to leech into the groundwater? Two days of burning old dock matter is a lot less worse than the people who burn coal in my neighborhood all winter.

    • The DEC statutes our anonymous “educator” mentions are just one layer of protections to prevent irresponsible burning of unsafe materials.

      Open burns require local permits which limit the size and content of the proposed burn whether they are inside or outside the city limits.

      If the city issued a permit for treated wood to be burned it would be illegal. If someone were to burn anything other than woody debris or anything that emits black smoke would also be illegal.

      Folks are allowed to use accelerants to start permitted open burns but this was emitting black smoke for hours which indicates more than a little accelerant.

      Some of you may remember back in 2001 when my neighbors alerted BCFD that they would be burning woody debris and instead conducted a three day burn of vehicles and structures polluting the neighborhood and watertable.

      Our local Fire Departments needs to fully understand what is and is not legal and folks need to be aware that burning anything other than woody debris is in fact not legal.

      • This “educator” works every day with the state air quality regulations. As for city regulations, all I can go by is what is stated in the article: city burn permits were obtained.

        Where should the old docks go instead?

        • It all depends on the permit, eh? If the city listed and approved of burning treated wood in the permit then they themselves broke the law.

          If the contractor failed to mention in the permit that the wood was treated and burned it anyway then they in effect broke the law.

          The borough cannot get a permit from the city to burn treated wood at the transfer facility on borough land so how can the RR?

          • The City of Seward regulation under 9.15.145 on burn permits summarizes that one needs the fire chief’s approval to get an open burn permit. I imagine there are certain burning circumstances in the permit, but I’ve never seen one so I’m not going to speculate.

      • Gosh Russ… If you look at the pictures, you will see a lot of white smoke, tan smoke and brown smoke. I don`t see any truly “black” smoke… as if tires or oil were being burned for instance. I guess the facts will again fail to be part of another one of your interesting tales.

  2. Carol,

    Your concerns for the air quality in Seward are sincere, which is great for fellow members of our community to have someone with a watchful eye such as yourself to look over our town. Your actions do not go unappreciated. First and foremost, I would think it would be wise of you to further investigate and study your allegations towards events taking place in town prior to instantaneously regurgitating your emotions and accusations carelessly via the news and internet. As a concerned citizen myself I looked into the burn event and found that the company did have all proper permits completed and is in compliance with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation – Air Quality Division, as well as the property owners at Alaska Railroad Association. I wish you no disrespect in any way, I am just looking for more informative and knowledgeable news when reading the paper these days.

  3. 10:45 am update

    I talked to DEC air quality again. He said that DEC rarely, if ever, approves a permit for a black smoke burn, especially in a city with other options such as a landfill. Orion Marine did apply for, but DID NOT receive, a black smoke permit from DEC. They are NOT permitted to burn anything that produces black smoke.

    DEC hopes to clarify any confusion quickly to prevent the second pile from being burned.

    AKProjectManager, I did much research as quickly as I could, and only posted after I had contacted DEC, the Fire Chief, AKRC, and the Seward Transfer Facility. It is not possible to absolutely, completely vet an emergency while it is in progress.

    Black smoke burns release excessive particulate matter, are toxic, and can cause respiratory and other health hazards. It is totally inappropriate and dangerous to allow a black smoke burn, especially in the heart of Seward. The toxic particulates do not “disappear” but remain in the air, on the ground, and in the water.


    • Actually, there is no such thing as a “black smoke” permit, only open burn permits through ADEC. Black smoke may be allowed in rare circumstances.

      Yes, black smoke releases particulate matter and potentially other toxic substances, as does home using heating oil, burning coal, and driving cars. Remember that when you drive over to view the burn pile, your car is emitting toxic substances that do not “disappear” but remain in the air, on the ground, and in the water.

    • Carol, Your caption on the second picture states that the smoke is among other things “carcinogenic”. Did you have the smoke tested to verify that it was in fact carcinogenic before you made the claim that it was?

  4. Carol is absolutely correct and regardless of what folks may think or may have heard, burning anything other than woody debris in an open burn is illegal. Period. Always has been and always will be. The city, RR, or local fire chief cannot choose to permit or allow an illegal fire without ramifications.

    • You are providing a lot of information on what can and cannot be done without pointing to any legal regulation. If you can provide that information, I’m sure we would all like to educate ourselves on what is in the law.

  5. Geeeeeez enough now. Russ & Carol. Seward would benefit more if you two would your time making the kids of Seward happy positive and drug free. You two work like sled dogs on the trail to Nome. Seward could use your energy in positive ways. Like hey thanks West Construction for removing all the creosote docks from our water. Good to see work going on and making Seward a better place to live and raise a family.