Thursday, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough reached an agreement with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to undertake a major upgrade of the Talkeetna Wastewater Treatment Plant. In 2014 the plant began failing to meet some standards of an ADEC discharge permit under the annual stress of utility use by some 300,000 summer tourists.
The agreement benefits both the State and the Borough by resolving past discharge permit violations without the high cost and uncertainty of a formal civil enforcement proceeding. Called a Compliance Order by Consent, the signed document is basically an agreement to take specific action to return the utility to compliance. Months ago, the Borough began developing and implementing upgrade plans without waiting for the signed agreement.
“I appreciate that DEC recognized the Borough’s desire and commitment to return the system to compliance. We focused on returning to compliance rather than on penalizing the utility,” said Nicholas Spiropoulos, Borough Attorney.
The treatment plant is old and not sufficient for the demands on it.When the treatment plant began to fail in 2014, the Borough conducted a system-wide engineering analysis. With analysis results in 2015, the Borough began implementing repairs, which improved the quality of the effluent but werenot enough to bring the treatment plant into full compliance with the discharge permit.
“By the summer of 2018, it became clear that the recommended repairs were not sufficient and the plant would require a capital upgrade,” said Terry Dolan, Public Works Director. “The design process is underway and the Borough expects to begin construction next summer,” he said.
The Talkeetna Sewer and Water Utility provides water and sewage treatment for some 200 residential and commercial accounts in a special service area. For thirty-four years, the utility had little revenue and no money for capital upgrades. In 2017 when local voters approved a three percent sales tax, a revenue source was established for infrastructure upgrades.
In addition to upgrading the treatment plant the Borough agreed that the Talkeetna Sewer and Water Utility would pay $11,500 in fines for permit violations, which occurred in 2014 through 2017, and $48,150 for violations in 2018. Typically the plant effluent violated discharge permit limits two or three times per summer. Most of the violations were for exceeding the fecal coliform limits. The wastewater was generally 80 to 90 percent treated, which was insufficient to meet permit standards.
HDL Engineering Consultants is under contract to design the plant upgrade, which should meet Talkeetna’s needs for the next 20 years. The Borough secured an Alaska Clean Water Fund loan to cover design and construction costs. The utility will repay the $7.7 million State loan using sales tax revenue collected in the Talkeetna Water and Sewer Service Area.