The Sitka Assembly voted Tuesday night to award a $5.5-million contract to Dawson Construction to build a new UV Disinfection Facility at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. The facility will treat water from Blue Lake, and bring Sitka’s primary source of drinking water into compliance with federal regulations.

But before voting, the assembly needed a refresher on why the project is necessary.

As the assembly took up the motion to approve the contract, member Pete Esquiro asked, “I’d like for somebody to remind me why we’re doing this?”

That task fell to Environmental Superintendent Mark Buggins, who explained that the system is necessary to meet federal drinking water standards.

Buggins: It’s a federal drinking water requirement to have a secondary barrier for pathogens, particularly protozoa…

Esquiro: So they’ll cut us off if we don’t do it?

Buggins: Yeah. Yeah, they’d be taking somebody to jail.

Assembly member Phyllis Hackett: Who?! 

Buggins: The administrator.

Hackett: Oh!

“The city administrator or mayor,” clarified city finance director Jay Sweeney, who is serving as acting city administrator while Mark Gorman is out of town. Sweeney said that if Sitka chose to simply ignore the mandate, it would first face fines from the Environmental Protection Agency. But it could face other consequences.  “Realistically, that is a risk. Either the administrator or the mayor could be arrested if we were in noncompliance.”

“I would like to see this passed, then,” said Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter, to laughter. Hunter is serving as acting mayor while Mim McConnell is out of town.

All joking aside, Hunter said, “This is a federal mandate by the EPA for our drinking water…it’s something we don’t have a choice on.”

That federal mandate is called the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule — or just Long Term 2. It’s aimed at reducing waterborne diseases.  Basically, it requires any community that gets its drinking water from a surface water source — any lake, river or reservoir — to add an extra layer of protection against the microorganisms that can be found in those waterways.

One main target is Cryptosporidium. It’s a microscopic parasite that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Sitka currently disinfects its water with chlorine, but Cryptosporidium is resistant to chlorine. The new facility will use ultraviolet radiation to basically disrupt the DNA of microorganisms, making it impossible for them to reproduce, so they can’t infect anyone drinking the water.

Funding for the project is coming from the state Department of Environmental Conservation: the city has received about $5.5-million in grants from the state, along with about $6.5-million in loans.

If all goes according to schedule, the contractor will break ground this fall and finish the project by August 2015.


The Assembly also voted to lease space at the Sitka Airport to UPS. And assembly members approved an $840,000 contract with CBC Construction to replace two aging lift stations, one on Lake Street and one on Monastery Street. The lift stations are part of the city sewer system.

You can find more coverage of the Sitka Assembly here.