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Mystery sheen in St. Paul Harbor contained as City of Kodiak tracks source of spill

A containment boom, in orange, surrounds a '"sausage" boom in white as it works to clean up a spill in St. Paul Harbor.
Davis Hovey/KMXT
A containment boom, in orange, surrounds a '"sausage" boom in white as it works to clean up a spill in St. Paul Harbor.

Three separate spills of what’s currently labeled as a mystery sheen have been reported in one of Kodiak’s harbors so far this month, on June 1, 11, and 18. City officials say the most recent incident involved a resident's fuel tank which cleanup crews responded to on June 18.

Acting City Manager Josie Bahnke said the city received a report of a sheen from a spill of an unknown substance in St. Paul Harbor around 4 p.m. on June 18. Shortly after, staff from the Public Works, Harbor, and Fire Departments responded to the scene. Harbormaster Dave Johnson told KMXT via email that the sheen was coming from an outflow into St. Paul Harbor and was “boomed off as soon as it was discovered.”

“They deployed a containment boom, sausage boom, absorbent diapers around the affected area," Bahnke explained. And of course the USCG-Marine Safety Division (MSD) was notified of the containment. City staff continued to monitor the situation throughout the night,” she said.

But city staff were unable to locate the source of the sheen spill into the harbor.

So, Bahnke said Public Works crews then checked manhole after manhole on June 19 until they found what they believe is the source of the spill – a residential fuel tank on Willow Street.

“Public Works staff did interview the homeowner. They had reported that that particular fuel tank had been drained and abandoned for several years. And so we’re still getting to the bottom of that," Bahnke said.

Kodiak’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Manager Sev Reed said the residents were using a sump pump to discharge into a nearby storm drain. Depending on the situation and the municipality, discharging into a storm drain may require a permit or is otherwise considered illegal in Alaska. The City of Kodiak has its own discharge permits and requirements laid out within city code. If you are currently using a sump pump to discharge any substances into the city’s storm drains or sewers, Kodiak's Wastewater Treatment Plant staff would like to know. You can contact Sev Reed by calling 907 486 8076.

That may explain how diesel fuel from the tank ended up traveling almost a mile from the center of town, above Mill Bay Road, down through an outflow into St. Paul Harbor. But city officials are unsure of the exact cause of the spill at this time.

The Thelma C docked on the spit in Kodiak, near St. Paul Harbor.
Davis Hovey/KMXT
The Thelma C docked on the spit in Kodiak, near St. Paul Harbor, just above the water where the unknown sheen was found.

The mystery sheen has since been cleaned up and no additional fuel is spilling into St. Paul Harbor as of June 19. Bahnke said the city is working with NWFF Environmental to mitigate environmental impacts and recover any additional sheen inside storm drains or around the spill area.

According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the total amount of the unknown substance spilled into the harbor is not clear. But the other two spills earlier this month involved less than two gallons in total. A spokesperson for DEC also told KMXT via email that it is unknown if the three individual spills into St. Paul Harbor are connected.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misstated Josie Bahnke's title. She is the Acting City Manager, not the City Manager. The article has been corrected and KMXT regrets the error.

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