Progress in sight for wastewater lagoons

City lagoon at Lowell Point. Heidi Zemach file photo.

City lagoon at Lowell Point. Heidi Zemach file photo.

Heidi Zemach for SCN –

Seward City Manager Jim Hunt has ordered four Microbubble Aerators and two control panels for the city’s passive wastewater lagoon at Lowell Point from ClearBlu Environmental, a company based in Watsonville, California, at a cost of $43,500. The aerators should arrive in Seward the next few weeks, and be installed. They will increase the oxygen levels in the lagoon, help the microorganisms in the lagoon digest the waste, and thus should reduce the odors coming from the lagoon, according to the Seward Public Works Department and its contracted wastewater experts.

While this is a temporary fix, it should help settle things out a little until the real work begins some time in the fall, after the tourists have left. Bed and Breakfast owners at Lowell Point report they are booked solid this season, and several have been voicing concerns since last summer’s smelly season about clients cancelling due to odors coming from the lagoon.

The city has now accumulated $3.4 Million in funding to remove the sludge from both of its lagoons, the one at Lowell Point, and one at Seward Marine Industrial Center, (used mostly by the inmates and staff of the state-owned Spring Creek Correctional Center) and to refurbish the SMIC lagoon. City Manager Jim Hunt anticipates the city issuing an Invitation to Bid for the project by next week.

The city recently announced it had found a location willing to accept the two-decades of accumulated lagoon sludge that meets with the approval of Kenai Peninsula Borough, and regulatory agencies. The lack of a location to dispose of the sludge material, and funding for the project, had been longstanding stumbling blocks to progress, according to Seward Public Works Director William Casey.  The city lagoons should ideally have been dredged every 7-10 years, he said.


The contractor who gets the job will have final say over where the sludge material is disposed of, but now it appears that if they are willing, the borough landfill will accept it all, for 45 dollars per ton, under the terms of a recently-increased disposal fee. The total should run them $200 thousand, not including the cost of dredging.

The funding came together beautifully once the issue became a priority for the city, and that occurred after it had received the state funding it hoped for to build a new breakwater at SMIC.

The breakwater project received $5.9 million in state capitol project funds, to go with $10 million received from the 2012 statewide bond package, and another $10 million from the 2013 legislative session. Some of the money originally asked for was diverted to help Seward fund the deferred maintenance on the waste water lagoons. The city had estimated it needed $7.9 million to complete the breakwater project and had asked for that amount at the beginning of the session. But, after using the maritime bridge simulator at AVTEC’s Marine Center, in the presence of project engineers and shipping company experts, the engineers were able to refine the design and reduce the cost by $2 million, and was allowed to divert the $1.7 million to the lagoon projects.

Lowell Point residents dominated the audience of the October 2nd informational meeting. Heidi Zemach file photo.

Lowell Point residents dominated the audience of the October 2nd informational meeting. Heidi Zemach file photo.

The smelly lagoon issue has dragged on since last year, bolstered by the work of active Lowell Point residents, 20 of who filed “nuisance odor reports” with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Air Quality Division late last summer. They appeared and testified at numerous meetings, researched the issue themselves, and offered their own wastewater expert and suggested potential solutions.  After citizens had brought the issue to their attention, DEC issued a Joint Notice of Violation (NOV) to the city, calling for a timetable to address the issues, along with possible fines depending upon the city’s degree of compliance. DEC has worked with city officials to find  acceptable long-term and short-term solutions.

The city is asking DEC officials to be allowed to dump untreated city wastewater directly into Resurrection Bay during the course of the dredging work.

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