Open house aims to sign more residents up for North Pole city water expansion

FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) The North Pole Water System Expansion project held an open house on December 5 to sign up North Pole residents to connect to the public water system, and to answer any questions they may have.

Residents arrive at the Sulfolane open house in the North Pole Plaza Mall on Wednesday December 5, 2019. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF).

Representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation, the City of North Pole, and Flint Hills Resources were present to take questions and provide more information.

Bill O’Connell with the DEC says the public water system is expanding in response to the presence of sulfolane in groundwater in the North Pole area that has migrated from the former North Pole refinery over the last several decades.

O’Connell says the most common questions from residents are about the extent of the contamination, and asking for data for groundwater samples that were collected near their residence.

“We oversee contaminated sites and work with the responsible parties. The State of Alaska is a responsible party, and obviously so are Flint Hills and Williams. We work with the community of North Pole to ensure that there is safe drinking water for folks that are on wells. In those areas that there has been sulfolane, we want to make sure that they’re getting on to city water rather than using their wells, and being given clean water so that they’re not exposed to the sulfolane,” said Commissioner Jason Brune, of the Department of Environmental Conservation in Alaska.

Residents from zone one and two were hooked up last year, and Bill Butler from the City of North Pole says they were happily surprised with the number of eligible residents who signed up. Of the approximately 200 eligible properties in zones one and two, 90% chose to hook up to the public water system. “We were thinking if we got 75% that would be great; when we got 90% at the end of the construction season, we were overjoyed,” said Butler.

In zones three and four, there are more than 450 eligible properties. Butler says approximately 50 people in zones three and four were connected in the fall. The rest of the connections will start in the spring.

“Ultimately the contamination here is not just from the sulfolane but from the PFAS as well. It looks like the areas may overlap, so this is one way we know that individuals have safe water. It is an option. They don’t have to hook up with city water, they can keep the system they were already given by Flint Hills, so it’s definitely a choice for people,” said Representative Tammie Wilson of North Pole.

Wilson also says some of those alternative systems given to residents by Flint Hills were having a water tank put in, getting bottled water, or a filtration system. “The biggest thing is if you want to hook up, now it is free. You wait a year or two down the line, and then basically that deal goes away. The more they can get hooked up, then the more affordable it will be for everybody else for the water,” said Wilson.

Butler says part of the settlement was that the connection would be free for properties, that a $2,000 water credit will go to their account, and if they sign up early they can get $500 as either cash or water credit.

The early sign up is available until May 31, 2020. Residents with questions can contact the City of North Pole Utility Clerk, Melanie Swanson, at 488-8538.

Copyright 2019 KTVF. All rights reserved.