An Alaska utility may receive a $1 million government grant — despite a recent environmental violation.
According to a report by the Peninsula Clarion, the city of Kenai has been trying to secure funding for wastewater plant upgrades through an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) grant program for the last three years. Up until now they have been denied. The city of Kenai cannot afford to make the upgrades on its own, reports the Peninsula Clarion.
In 2015, the DEC cited Kenai for exceeding permit ammonia emission limits in its wastewater discharge. Kenai was given five years to fix the problem.
It was this very violation which may have finally prompted the DEC to approve a wastewater plant upgrade grant for Kenai. A draft of the state’s budget has allocated $1,019,287 to the utility.
“There’s kind of a double-edged sword on that violation,” said Mike Lewis, DEC’s program manager for the Municipal Matching Grant, in the Peninsula Clarion article. “We give them extra points on that, but we do take a little bit away because they are operating without compliance. But if they show that they’re trying to do something to move forward with it, they’ll get enough points to override that criteria. ... If there’s an issue and the community’s not doing anything, then they’d probably be hurt more by not being in compliance and not doing anything about it.”
Before any improvement projects can begin, the source of the ammonia must be determined. Kenai City Manager Rick Koch says it is possible that the problem is caused by the plant’s digester, which hasn’t been cleaned in 25 years because the plant has been unable to take it out of use, reports the Peninsula Clarion.
“We’ve only got one,” Koch said in the Peninsula Clarion article. “It’s working, but like any component in a mechanical process, there’s a time when you’ve got to take it offline and clean it out. We’re probably past due that.”
A consultant from C2HM is investigating the issue, testing at critical places throughout the system at different times, to see if ammonia levels are peaking in particular areas.
In addition to the $1,019,287 government grant, the city of Kenai plans to contribute another $436,837 toward wastewater treatment plant improvements.
Funding will go toward configuring an aeration basin to function as a digester while the digester is shut down for cleaning, and the installation of variable pumps that can vary the pressure they put out, resulting in an energy savings. Kenai also plans to make additional upgrades that will make the plant more energy efficient.
Approval for DEC’s grant funding still needs to pass through the legislature, which may vote to reduce or eliminate it.