Palmer: City suspected tampering at sewage plant

Changes came after incident leading to federal indictment

Posted: Friday, December 29, 2000

City officials were concerned about the possibility of tampering with effluent samples at the Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant in 1998, City Manager Dave Palmer said today.

As a result, the city changed to a new procedure for taking samples at the end of that year, he said.

The new procedure came after the time period in which wastewater utility superintendent Andrew Bronson allegedly diluted two samples used to check compliance with the Clean Water Act. Indicted by a federal grand jury in Anchorage earlier this month, Bronson faces two felony counts from the alleged incidents in September and October of 1998.

Palmer said that earlier, in the summer of 1998, the issue of potential tampering "had come up, unrelated to Bronson."

He said he couldn't comment further because of laws guaranteeing confidentiality in personnel matters. But the sample in question was taken as part of a daily "process control" routine at the plant and was not going to be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for compliance verification.

Nevertheless, "In that case, I called EPA and let them know what was going on," Palmer said. The municipal government and the federal agency have been talking ever since, he said.

The city instituted its new procedure in December 1998 or January 1999, Palmer said.

The laboratory at the Mendenhall plant was shut down and all of the sampling analysis was contracted out to Analytica Alaska, a private firm that had been doing some of it, Palmer said. Since then, samples have been collected by two city employees who are videotaped while doing it, he said. The employees, neither of them Bronson, jointly take the samples to the private lab, he said.

"What I want folks to understand is whatever happened back then can't happen now," Palmer said.

The Juneau Assembly has agreed in principle to pay Bronson's legal bills. According to members of the assembly, surveillance video that was not taken by the city is part of the evidence against him. The source of the video has not been disclosed.

Meanwhile, the city is facing a $60,000 fine from the EPA for apparently unrelated violations of the Clean Water Act in 1999. Palmer says Analytica made a mistake in analyzing samples from the Mendenhall plant that figured in EPA's pending enforcement action, although so far that has been denied by the lab manager, Dave Wetzel.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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