By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – The most recent Vigor Industries-commissioned assessment of soil and water at Seward Ship’s Drydock shows the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in shallow sediments near the ship lift across Resurrection Bay from Seward. Investigators also found heavy metals and petroleum by-products other than PAHs. The findings have not changed Vigor’s plans to purchase Seward Ships, a plan it dubs Project Solstice. Vigor commissioned the $300,000-study as part of it due diligence in acquiring Seward Ships and acquiring the lease of city-owned lands at Seward Marine Industrial Center. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued several Notices of Violation to Seward Ships regarding its operations at SMIC.
City of Seward will need to amend and re-assign the lease at SMIC if Vigor Industries finalizes its purchase of Seward Ships. According to Assistant City Manager Ron Long, nothing in the assessment looks as if it might derail the deal for Vigor to take over Seward Ships despite the presence of what he terms “hot spots”. Long explained that City of Seward requires all leaseholders of city property to comply with all applicable laws and regulations. He said that he expects Vigor to comply with EPA and ADEC regulations “from day one”. Several years ago, City of Seward and ADEC required Seward Ships to adhere to promulgated “best management practices”, but it remains unclear if Seward Ships has done so.
“I’m feeling pretty okay about this,” said Long. “We would be more concerned if we weren’t contemplating a new buyer from a State with tougher regulations. Washington has environmental regulations that Alaska could only dream about,” he said referring to Vigor’s main operations there and its take over of a polluted shipyard in Ketchikan.
In February of 2014, GeoTek Alaska bored 14 sample holes in uplands and tidelands of the site to a depth of 25 feet upland and 8 feet tidelands. Analysis of soil samples, sediment and water shows PAHs in concentrations above “probable effects level” i.e., “the concentration above which adverse effects are expected frequently” according to ADEC. Analysis also showed the presence of several other contaminants, including tributyl tin (a now banned ingredient in bottom paint), but not in concentrations above the “screening level”. EPA says screening levels “are used to streamline the evaluation and cleanup of site soils.” “Probable effects” refers to lower aquatic organisms and does not address the topic of accumulation in the food chain. ADEC and EPA documents acknowledge that TBT bio-accumulates. The probable effects level does not mean a clean-up level and does not necessarily obligate the responsible party to take action. ADEC has standards for TBT in fresh and salt water, but not for soil.
Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance has expressed serious concerns about Seward Ships pollution generally and about contamination from TBT in particular. In 2004, Seward Ships dumped 189 cubic yards of sandblasting residue contaminated with petroleum byproducts, on property along Nash Road. Because of complaints initiated by RBCA, ADEC required Seward Ships to excavate the material and dispose of it properly. ADEC issued a Notice of Violation to Seward Ships in 2007 for contaminated dust escapements from its large, open-ended building at SMIC.
Said Russ Maddox of RBCA, “widespread legacy contamination that was revealed in 2004 by RBCA and confirmed by the EPA in 2006 and now reaffirmed by Vigor Marine’s contractor is clearly the result of decades of irresponsible and often unpermitted and noncompliant waste-generating operations on public property leased to Seward Ship’s Drydock and others. Tributyl tin is a biocide that was designed to kill all aquatic and marine life that it comes in contact with.”
After two phone calls and a voice-mail message in the last three weeks, no one at Seward Ships cared to comment to SCN on the impending sale or on the recently completed environmental site assessment carried out by ERM Consultants and released in April of this year.
To protect its interest as underlying landowner, City of Seward may require $1 million dollars of insurance paid for by Seward Ship’s if further contamination surfaces in the next four years. Ron Long says he would like to have more than that. Additionally, because one of the bore samples came from the area proposed for dredging should SMIC expand, disposal ofdredging spoils could present a problem. Further sampling or more expensive upland disposal may become necessary.