Sewage supervisor sentenced

Bronson apologizes for actions

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

ANCHORAGE - The superintendent of Juneau's wastewater treatment system was sentenced Wednesday for diluting test samples of the discharges from one of the city's treatment plants.

Andrew Bronson will pay a $10,000 fine and serve six months of home detention. He will be on probation for three years.

Bronson, 51, gave a tearful apology in federal court.

"I think I have been banished," said the Polish refugee from Solidarity days. "It's very hard. I lost my job. I lost my licenses. I lost my ability to provide for my family. I will be thrown out on the street. I have no future."

As it turned out, the samples Bronson diluted in 1998 would have met the standards without tampering, said his lawyer, Brian Doherty.

But U.S. Magistrate Harry Branson said the issue was a serious one.

"I recognize the defendant has offended a lot of people in Juneau and elsewhere," he said.

"Everyone fears pollution of the water supply."

The judge said he had received two letters regarding the case "written with a considerable amount of anger." He sealed the contents and the names of the authors of those letters. But he said they reflected the depth of feeling in Juneau.

Bronson "has been publicly censured and humiliated to the extent that he can no longer live in the community where he has lived and worked," the judge said. "There are people in the community, especially Juneau, who abhor what he has done, and revile him for it."

In his statement to the judge, Bronson said he had been under tremendous pressure to make Juneau's treatment plant on the Mendenhall River perform, and faced a group of employees who had been very hostile to every supervisor and superintendent before him. He said he had been threatened by employees and was afraid he'd lose his job, which he'd had for nine months when he diluted the samples.

"I tried to do a lot of good things," he said. "The plant I put all my heart and effort into, I turned it around. It's working beautifully."

Bronson originally was indicted on felony charges and has resigned from the city.

"I'm completely broke," he said. "I have a family. I am not a criminal of the hardest kind. I beg the court to let me go on with my life."

But prosecutor Kevin Feldis argued that the crime was a serious breach of public trust, and Bronson's actions made it appear that the water discharged into the Mendenhall River had fewer pollutants than it actually did.

"As a result of his conduct," Feldis said, "I imagine the public in Juneau has less faith not only in government but that the waters around them are clean."

The prosecutor said it took a lot of courage for Bronson's employees to come forward and bring the crime to light.

In addition to the probation, fine and home confinement, Bronson will have to write a public apology and pay for it to be published in quarter-page ads in the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Daily News. And the judge said Bronson will get his passport back "in a suitable ceremony after the three years of probation."

Bronson told the court that "the city recently required me to pay $85,000 for the cost of attorney fees," he said.

The city estimates that Bronson's legal fees could reach $100,000 and City Manager Dave Palmer told the Empire on Wednesday that the issue is not resolved. He said Juneau Assembly members will determine whether Bronson needs to repay the city.

Standards for payment are outlined in city code, and the Assembly has the ability to pick up legal fees for any employee who is held liable for claims or damages "where acts or omissions resulting in such liability were done in good faith."

Bronson's daughter MaryAnn, accompanied by her mother, Barbara, told Juneau Assembly members at a meeting Wednesday that the case has been difficult for her family. Her father, after consulting with his family and his lawyer, decided to enter a guilty plea on the misdemeanor charges because it seemed to be the easiest and safest way to go and wouldn't mean risking a trial, she said.

"This would be easier to swallow if we didn't believe in my father's innocence. This case is anything but straightforward," she said.

MaryAnn Bronson said she understood the issue was politically heated, but the legal bills would wipe out her family's life savings. She said her father's hard work at the plant probably has saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We wanted to let you know that all this is not just affecting my father, but his family as well," she said. "We know there's a lot of opposition against him, but we wanted to ask for your consideration."

Assembly member Jim Powell told Bronson's family that improvements at the treatment plant have been noticeable.

"The plant was in a lot worse shape before he took over. I can't say any more than that," he said.

Assembly member Cathy Munoz said she no longer receives calls from neighbors complaining about the treatment plant.

"Your father is a fine man. You can be proud of him," she said.

Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said today that the situation is unfortunate.

"I have my own feelings that I don't want to disclose. I'm very sympathetic to the family and have supported Andy Bronson all along," he said.

Palmer said the issue will come back to the Assembly at a future meeting. The city has been recruiting to replace Bronson and there has been a big turnover in the treatment plant's staff, he said.

"Through all this, the plant has been running better than it ever has. The effluent quality is great," Palmer said. "We have more fail-safe systems in place now than anyplace."

Bronson plans to move to Lake Havasu, Ariz., where he has some property.

Empire reporter Joanna Markell contributed to this report.

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