Lawmakers approve funding for SMIC breakwater and city lagoon

City lagoon at Lowell Point. Heidi Zemach file photo.

City lagoon at Lowell Point. Heidi Zemach file photo.

By Heidi Zemach for SCN-

The Seward City Council and administration were in a mood to celebrate at Monday night’s April 28th evening meeting. The capital budget recently passed by the state legislature included $5.9 million to fund the city’s top priority: a new breakwater at Seward Municipal Industrial Center, or SMIC.

Even better, late in the session the city representatives and lobbyists managed to get another $1.3 million added in the law maker’s capital budget for dredging and repairing the city’s sewage lagoon at Lowell Point.

Assistant City Manager Ron Long, recently returned from lobbying in Juneau and in Washington D.C., pointed out at the council meeting that with the $5.9 million for the SMIC breakwater, $10 million received from the 2012 statewide bond package, and another $10 million from the 2013 legislative session, the breakwater construction project will be fully funded, based on their engineer’s latest estimate.

Assistant City Manager Ron Long. Heidi Zemach file photo

Assistant City Manager Ron Long. Heidi Zemach file photo

The estimate originally showed the city needing $7.9 million to complete the project; constructing the breakwater and dredging the channel, but not the dock extensions, and that’s what the city had asked the legislature for at the beginning of this session. But, after using the maritime bridge simulator at AVTEC’s marine maritime center, in the presence of the project engineers and ship experts, the engineers were able to refine the design and reduce the cost estimate by $2 million, down to the $5.9 million awarded.

That money will go a long way toward the estimated cost of needed repairs and dredging to the aging waste water lagoon that has lacked maintenance and dredging for more than two decades. It will be added to the $500,000 previously appropriated by the city council for the upcoming budget cycle.



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It’s now up to Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to approve the legislature’s budget, either by signing it within 30 days, doing nothing and allowing it to become law without his signature, or vetoing items he disagrees with line by line. The SMIC and Lagoon funding were not in Alaska Governor’s capital budget, but Seward City officials appeared hopeful that these top Seward projects would not be red-lined.

Since last summer, and emotional meetings with residents and business owners of Lowell Point attending and speaking about their concerns for the coming tourist season, following a hot, foul-smelling summer last year, some had argued that the city’s top priorities should be on maintaining existing infrastructure.

Now, it appears, with the additional $1.3 million, and a possible state loan, the city might be able to do both.

Lately Lowell Point campground and B&B owners, whose season bookings are almost filled, have been encouraging the city administration not to plan on doing any dredging until after the tourist season ends due to the disruption it would cause. But they’re cautiously optimistic about having a cleaner-smelling season nonetheless. City department officials say they’re working to comply with Alaska Department of Conservation’s January 2014 Notice of Violation requirements that they come up with an approvable plan to address the lagoon maintenance issue. City Manager Jim Hunt announced Monday they had located a few surface aeration systems in Anchorage and Canada that would promote the biological oxidation of solids in the wastewater in order to help minimize odors, and are discussing prices. The city also is seeking DEC approval for those   aeration systems.

Public Works Director WC Casey initially said the city needed to fix the dissolved oxygen deficiency by replacing the lagoon’s blowers. Since then the blowers were checked out and found to be in good condition. Now, he believes the issue is a matter of leaky valves and mechanical fittings in the ground, and large gear diffusers that don’t create as good a transfer of oxygen as they would had the aerators been situated closer to the bottom of the lagoon, as are now required in passive waste water lagoons.

The city also has submitted a loan application to DEC to partially fund the project. Meanwhile the city is developing contract documents to hire a company to remove the sludge after Labor Day, and has pledged to complete the removal by November.

Meanwhile, the stumbling block continues to be where to dispose of the sludge. City officials were optimistic after speaking to Kenai Peninsula Borough Solid Waste Department officials about their ability to dispose of it in the Soldotna landfill.  But they were recently informed that the there was a new fee for disposing of sludge in landfill of 45 dollars per ton, starting July first, bringing the total to $200,000 dollars, not including the cost of dredging.

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