Whittier Harbor Expansion Dredges Up Old Oil Spill

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Efforts to expand the harbor in Whittier have run up against an old oil spill.  Last month, Harris Sand and Gravel dredges began pulling up gravel that was oily.

That’s Gary Folley manager of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Prevention and Emergency Response Program.  Dredging work had to be halted until regulators from DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers decided how the contaminated gravel would be dealt with.  They ended up piling it up on Alaska Railroad property near the end of the Anton Anderson Tunnel that connects Whittier with the Seward Highway.

There is not much mystery about where the oil came from.

The tank farm dates even farther back to when Whittier was a military port during the Second World War.  During the earthquake the tank farm was hit by several tidal waves, one more than 100 feet high.  Millions of gallons of fuel were released.  A lot of it burned.  But evidently some sank.  Folley says the contaminated rock and gravel is really piling up.

That’s about 1,000 dump truck loads.  Folley says the gravel is being drained before being added to the pile, and work has resumed with more precautions to protect the waters at the dredge site.

Folley says the extra work will add substantially to the cost of the $4 million Whitter project.

Photo courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks: “Whittier, AK., following the Alaska Earthquake 3/28/64”. Dark smoke rises from oil storage tanks at the water’s edge.

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