UAB talks sewage sludge options

There’s a barge on the horizon headed for Seattle; its contents ultimately headed for Oregon. With one hand, the city officials watching it leave Juneau hold their noses — with the other, they cross their fingers.

That’s because this barge, like others that regularly leave the city, is carrying the sewage sludge that Juneau hasn’t been able to handle since its incinerator stopped working five years ago. But there is an inherent uncertainty married to disposing of solid waste in this manner, which is why the city’s Utility Advisory Board met Thursday evening to put forward a better solution.

“Sam and I watch the containers leave every day, every week, and we cringe,” city Engineering Director Rorie Watt told the members of the board. Samantha Stoughtenger, the city’s wastewater utility superintendent and the person to whom Watt was referring, also attended Thursday’s meeting. Together, she and Watt are helping the advisory board put together a recommendation for the Assembly to move the city away from barging its waste to the Lower 48.

The board hopes to finalize its recommendation at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 2. Until then, city staff will be working to develop a draft recommendation for the board to consider, per its request. The board also asked for more details about its options, including replacing the burnt-out incinerator or building a thermal dryer to deal with the sludge.

Replacing the incinerator will cost between $23 million and $36.3 million, depending on where the city builds it. The dryer would cost $18 million.

“Honestly, if we come up with something that gets us off the barge line, I’ll be happy,” Watt told the Empire before the meeting.

According to Stoughtenger, the city sends between nine and 15 containers of sewage sludge south each week. This method of disposal is expensive — costing the city $2.2 million annually — and fraught with risk for the city. That’s why Watt, and everybody else at Thursday’s meeting, are looking for a new way to take care of our biosolid waste.

“When we started shipping, it seemed like a better idea than it currently is,” Watt said before the meeting.

It turns out that having people transport the human waste of an entire city is a surefire way to wear out your welcome. The members of the Utilities Advisory Board — and most other people following the problem — worry that sooner or later shipping will no longer be an option.

“Our recommendation doesn’t have to be, ‘This is it,”’ said Geoff Larson, a board member and co-owner of Alaskan Brewing Co. Larson argued that the board doesn’t have to provide a hard recommendation for the Assembly; it can provide options from which to choose. Whatever it does, it needs to move quickly, though, he said. “Our time crunch is basically the risk of the fear we’re exposed to.”

The risk, in this case, is that one of the entities involved in transporting Juneau’s solid waste, which is a stinky and sometimes-messy process, will decide that it no longer wants to be involved. First, the sludge is barged to Seattle, then it’s put on a train to Oregon. Not surprisingly, nobody seems to be wild about doing this job.

“At the end of the day it’s a pretty tenuous thing that we do, and I don’t think anybody in that chain really wants our business,” Watt said.

And all it will take is for one link in this chain to break to leave the city up the proverbial creek.

“We can recommend the bottle of Vitamin C tablets or the orange tree, but we’ve got scurvy,” he told the members of the board.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-life flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read