Updated: Dec. 20, 2017
North Pole Piped Water Expansion
North Pole Refinery
North Pole Refinery
In 2009, sulfolane was detected in drinking water wells near the North Pole Refinery, about 15 miles east of Fairbanks. Under DEC oversight, Flint Hills Resources Alaska (FHRA), owner of the refinery, responded quickly by providing affected residents and businesses with alternative drinking water and initiating an extensive characterization effort. The sulfolane groundwater plume is currently approximately 2 miles wide, 3.5 miles long and over 300 feet deep, and continuing to migrate to the north-northwest.
FHRA and the State of Alaska announced on February 7th, 2017, that they will be working with the City of North Pole to significantly expand their piped public water system to provide sulfolane-free drinking water to residents impacted by the sulfolane groundwater plume. On February 25th 2017, an estimated 100 people attended a Community Open House, held at the North Pole Plaza. Attendees from the area talked with representatives from the DEC, FHRA and the City of North Pole regarding specifics of the project.
Stantec, an international engineering firm with a local office in Fairbanks, was contracted to design the piped water system expansion. The design is complete, and the City of North Pole is currently evaluating proposals for construction anticipated to begin in early 2018.
With expansion of the piped water system, the alternative water supply (AWS) program is being phased out. Alternative water will continue to be provided to properties with sulfolane detections and properties potentially in the migration path of the sulfolane plume until the expanded piped water system is available for connection.
DEC will continue regulatory oversight, and groundwater monitoring of the sulfolane plume will continue during and after construction of the piped water expansion. This monitoring will focus on the plume boundaries to track the sulfolane plume expansion and include monitoring of buffer zone properties for protection from potential exposure to sulfolane in drinking water. In the event the sulfolane plume migrates beyond the expanded service area, provisions are in place to supply clean alternative water to additional impacted properties if sulfolane in a private drinking water well exceeds a protective level, currently set at EPA’s Regional Screening Level of 20 parts per billion.
Piped Water Expansion Design
The design phase of the North Pole piped water expansion project began shortly after the February 2017 agreement. The Stantec engineers have been working with a design team, including representatives from FHRA, the State, and the City of North Pole, to prepare the design documents for the project. The design is complete, and the City of North Pole is currently evaluating proposals for construction anticipated to begin in early 2018. ( See a map of the area to be covered by the public water system.) The City of North Pole will be the contract manager for the construction phase and is planning to put the project out to bid in late 2017, with construction slated to begin in Spring 2018.
Milestones from the design phase are listed below:
- An in-depth property review was conducted by the design team to finalize the number of service connections, which has expanded from a pre-design estimate of 656 to the current estimate of 706 service connections. The boundaries of the service area have not changed since the February 2017 project announcement and include all improved properties impacted by the sulfolane plume, both within the City of North Pole and outside the city limits. The expansion area includes the Garden, Riddle Estates, Poodle, Pine Stream, Steelhead and Sorores subdivisions.
- The project will include approximately 35 miles of new pipe. The majority of the new pipe will be constructed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
- Efforts are proceeding to purchase land needed for an additional water reservoir along Badger Road.
- Stantec is working with a subcontractor, R&M Consultants, on right-of-way acquisition throughout the project area. The majority of the easements necessary for new piping trenching already exist; however, there are a number of new easements to be acquired. This has been an ongoing process throughout this past summer. There are also many private properties with existing right-of-way easements the project intends to utilize. If you have questions about easements across your property, please see the Contact Us page.
Construction will take place in phases. The first phases are anticipated to occur in Zones 1 and 2 ( see a map of the area to be covered by the public water system - Oct. 4, 2017) and are scheduled to begin in Spring 2018. Construction timeframe details will be worked out between the construction contractor and the City of North Pole. While the system will be installed throughout 2018 and 2019, it will not be operational and providing public service until 2019/2020.
Piped Water Connections and Costs
In order to connect to piped water, each property owner will need to sign up with the City of North Pole. Plans are currently underway to hold a Community Open House on February 24, 2018, 2:30 - 4:30 p.m., at the North Pole Plaza Mall to provide information to the public and solicit comments and questions on the upcoming community water expansion project.
Costs of installing service lines and hookup to the system are covered in the February 2017 agreement. A $2,000 water credit will also be provided to all property owners currently identified as eligible for connection within the service area. According to the City of North Pole, this credit should cover an average residential utility water bill between two to three years depending upon usage. Alternative drinking water will continue to be provided until the piped water extension is available for connection.
City of North Pole
City of North Pole, Public Works
Director of City Services
125 Snowman Lane, North Pole, AK 99705
DEC, Drinking Water Program, Division of Environmental Health
Program Manager, Field Operations
DEC, Contaminated Sites Program, Division of Spill Prevention and Response
Environmental Program Specialist and Project Manager
FLINT HILLS RESOURCES ALASKA
Flint Hills Resources Alaska, Ground Water Office
1100 H&H Lane, North Pole, AK 99705
Ensuring Clean Water - DEC's Drinking Water Program
DEC's Drinking Water Program requires public water systems to be in compliance with state and federal drinking water regulations and will be the regulatory entity to review and approve the design of this piped water expansion project. The City of North Pole's public water system is regulated by the State's Drinking Water Program.
There has never been a detection of sulfolane in the City’s treated drinking water. In 2010 a trace amount of sulfolane was detected in samples from the raw water entering the treatment system. The city’s treatment system removed the trace amount before the water entered the distribution system.
As a precautionary measure, FHRA constructed two new public drinking water wells for the City of North Pole outside of the contaminant plume.
DEC issued operational approval in December 2010; the currently used wells began operating in January 2011.
Samples taken from the new wells have shown levels of all regulated contaminants to be below allowable maximum levels. The City of North Pole follows a prescribed testing schedule for sulfolane, in addition to other analytes, as required by DEC. The new wells have never had a detection of sulfolane in raw or treated water.
For more information contact Cindy Christian, Program Manager Field Operations, Drinking Water Program (907) 451-2138, firstname.lastname@example.org.