A mysterious fuel spill on Selief Lane has engineers puzzled and is racking up a bill for the city of Kodiak.

On Thursday night, the Kodiak City Council approved $25,000 to clean up the spill, which has spread across a city-owned lot behind the 1200 block of Selief Lane.

“We’re trying to backtrack the source,” said Ryan Sharratt, the environmental consultant hired to clean the spill and find its origin.

The spill was discovered Jan. 22 when a Selief Lane homeowner reported smelling fuel and seeing a sheen in the back of his yard.

The Kodiak Fire Department responded and spread absorbent pads to contain “what was described as fuel oil coming from a drainage runoff behind 1213 Selief Lane,” a fire department statement read.

Sharratt said he can’t say how much fuel has spilled in the area, formerly used as a drinking water reservoir, but the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said between 30 and 40 gallons of fuel has been directly removed since it began spewing from a culvert on city-owned property.

The culvert has intermittently leaked more fuel since, and because no one yet knows where the fuel is coming from, it’s the city’s job to pay for the cleanup.

If the city can find where the fuel is coming from, the cost will be transferred to the person responsible for the leak.

“We have to approach this with a fair bit of caution,” Sharratt said. “Obviously, whoever is responsible, they have a great deal of liability.”

With the culvert cordoned off to contain any additional leaks, Sharratt’s job now is to find the source of the leak.

“I’m not any sort of criminal investigator by any means,” he said, but both Sharratt and an investigator have similar jobs.

If the leak were a criminal case, Sharratt would be in the role of the police, gathering evidence to forward on to the district attorney, in this case the DEC.

Since the leak was discovered, Sharratt has sent probes down the culvert and crawled through the crawlspace of a nearby apartment complex, searching for a leaking fuel tank.

So far, he hasn’t had any success.

That’s not surprising, given Kodiak’s geology. Beneath Kodiak’s thin layer of soil is an impermeable layer of rock or clay. When rainwater reaches that layer, it can’t go any deeper and instead spreads rapidly downhill like a skier on a fresh layer of snow. When oil is carried with fresh-fallen rain, it might show up hundreds or thousands of feet away from the original leak.

“You’re presented with a puzzle at times,” Sharratt said. “When they’re not so obvious … it could take months (to resolve).”

In this case, Sharratt has one big clue. “Just here a couple days ago, there was a re-release of product, which gives us a better idea,” he said.

That could indicate a leaky fuel tank in January that was recently refilled, narrowing the potential sources of a leak.

Kodiak sees between three and eight fuel links of this type each year, Sharratt said, and he’s solved every one he’s been handed.

This one will be no different.

“The case doesn’t get closed until a responsible party’s been identified and financial measures have been instituted,” he said.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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