City of Seward

Emotional Council Meeting

By Heidi Zemach for SCN – 

Flowers mark the late Vanta Shafer's place next to Mayor Bardarson and Councilwoman Keil. Heidi Zemach photo
Flowers mark the late Vanta Shafer’s place next to Mayor Bardarson and Councilwoman Keil. Heidi Zemach photo

The Seward City Council January 27th meeting was emotional from start to finish, with a few lighter breaks in between.  The absence of longtime council member and former Seward mayor Vanta Shafer, who died unexpectedly last week was almost palpable. Some eyes were wet with tears, and voices shook with emotion with the mention of her name, be they colleagues or even just acquaintances. The leather seat which was to have been hers was tipped forward, and a bouquet of pretty pink roses and white baby’s breath stood in front of it.

Seward City Mayor Jean Bardarson requested a moment of silence in Shafer’s honor, and the crowd filling the council chambers rose to oblige, heads bowed. The mayor also read a memorial praising her colleague, which said Shafer had represented Seward longer than any council person had since the city’s incorporation in 1912.

The city will advertise the council vacancy, and select the person to fill the remainder of her three-year term at its Feb 24th meeting. The deadline to apply is Feb 17th

The other emotion expressed was antipathy.

Under Citizens Comments, Russ Maddox, President of the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, spoke about the open burn that had taken place at the Alaska Railroad Corporation yard Jan. 9-11 by Orion Marine Construction (West Construction). Because of the dark smoke it produced, citizen’s complaints, photographs and other evidence it received, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Air Quality Division is investigating the three-day burn of old harbor dock floats, dunnage, and other materials that may have not been legal to burn for lack of a black-smoke permit.

Maddox said he co-founded RBCA in the years following another unpermitted burning of garbage-filled derelict building materials and vehicles that took place in 2001 on the property owned by a former city councilwoman who lived next to his own Nash Road home. The contaminated ash drove him to abandon his home. The Environmental Protection Agency and FBI Environmental Crimes Unit’s investigation of the burn cost thousands of dollars and took two years to resolve, and it took the civil courts six years, he said.

He couldn’t believe that those who planned and managed the recent burn did not realize that burning treated lumber of any type is illegal, harmful to the environment and the public health, Maddox said. It’s “remedial knowledge” that burning treated lumber of any type is harmful to public health and to the environment, he said.  Continuing the burn after DEC ordered the fire put out (on Friday) deserves further scrutiny and consequences.

“Even though the names and materials burned then and now are different, the pattern is awkwardly clear. This cavalier attitude towards regulations that the city often displays must end now,” Maddox ended.

Councilwoman Christy Terry told Seward City News and other local news organizations after the burn that she had not personally visited the site, and had not seen its contents, and that the Alaska Railroad was just the landowner and was not responsible for the burn. She addressed Maddox’s statement on the burn in final Council Comments:

“I just would like to say that Russ Maddox is a liar and is not telling the truth consistently regarding my involvement. I can only surmise he is trying to get additional traction by attacking me. Just to clarify, it was not an Alaska Railroad burn. Orion Marine conducted the burn and was in charge of obtaining and following all required permits. That can be verified with the ADEC.”


As the landowner, ARRC is also listed alongside Orion on the November 2013 black smoke burn permit application to DEC, and Terry’s signature appears on the form on behalf of the railroad corporation, certifying that the information provided in the application is true, accurate and complete.

Newly appointed council member Dale Butts, on the staff of AVTEC’s Alaska Maritime Training Center which also conducts simulated vessel burns, and longtime member of the Seward Volunteer Fire Department also commented:

“I would like to admonish anybody who does do citizen’s comments, please just make sure that if you are going to bring something here and air it here, please make sure that we have all of the facts. Whether they’re confirmed…but I just want to make sure that you have confirmation of facts when you do bring them to us.”

Dave Squires, a councilman and recently-retired Seward Fire Chief said; “Thank you for being involved in the community. We really do appreciate it. We may not agree all of the time, but that’s what government is, so keep it up.”

City Manager Jim Hunt announced he is conducting his own investigation of the burn, and would have a report for the council and the public by the end of the week.

“I just want to say I’m very disappointed with Mr. Maddox’s comments, allegations, specious allegations, damning, bomb throwing, without any facts, (unintelligible) observations that somehow condemned the chief, the fire chief, city employees, me, employees of the railroad, and councilwoman without any facts. I am carrying out a fair and honest investigation as to what occurred. I don’t need all the government, federal courts. I will get to the bottom of it within the week. I will present the findings to council and to citizens as soon as this investigation is complete. Casting unfounded allegations in council and online is unproductive and bordering on slander in my opinion.”

Sue Lang, of Lowell Point urges speed in dealing with aging sewage facility. Heidi Zemach photo.
Sue Lang, of Lowell Point urges speed in dealing with aging sewage facility. Heidi Zemach photo.

Another controversial issue generating emotion concerned the condition of the City Sewage Lagoon at Lowell Point. Sue Lang, of Lowell Point, who owns a bed and breakfast and camp grounds near the city lagoon, urged the council to get something done quickly as her business is starting up again soon and she might have to send Seward the bill for business lost. She recently encountered squatters around a campfire on her closed campground property who told her they don’t come there often because of the stink.

In the City Manager’s Report, Hunt briefly mentioned receiving the DEC’s new Notice of Violation and announced that he had spent $27,000 on a “muffin monster” (solids grinder) for the lagoon. Later, he said a report by Dr. Lee Reid, “a highly experienced engineer” the city had hired for a second opinion on temporary repairs, would be available to council and public the next day. He asked the council for direction to be allowed to designate $500,000 for lagoon repairs, which would help the city apply for matching grants for lagoon repairs. Hunt assured council that the Public Works department was diligently looking for funds, and said the primary issue was not dredging, but finding a place to dispose of the bio-solids (or sludge).

At the end of the meeting, Lynda Paquette, another Lowell Point business owner, said she’d miss Vanta (Shafer) the most because she was the council member most conversant on the pond issue. She urged the council to carry on in her spirit to get it resolved.

“I don’t understand how government works, and maybe behind the scenes at some other time you’re talking about this, but to not publicly admit that the city had this 60 day deadline to respond to this duel Notice of Violation seems to be a bit lacking in transparency, honesty and truthfulness, and I would like to ask all of us, everybody on the planet, that we make 2014 the year when we start using all those words,” said Paquette.


One Comment

  1. I’ll give the councilwoman the benefit of the doubt and try to believe that she believes what she said was true and that the other critical commenters on council simply hadn’t read the documents that I have. Perhaps councilwoman Terry forgot she signed the permit and reviewed the bid and contract and really doesn’t feel in any way personally responsible for the recent illegal burn and that’s fine. But legally I am absolutely correct. I certainly wouldn’t say so if I was not sure.

    Before the embers were cold I had already reviewed the dock disposal bid terms, city contract, DEC permit application and SFD burn permit. These documents tell the whole story in signed sworn official documents.

    Seeing this in a strictly legal sense, as official representative of the landowner where the event transpired the RR was legally “in control of the site” and having been signatory to the rejected black smoke burn permit the RR is indeed a Responsible Party legally were there to be damages or claims or charges levied.

    Don’t lose sight of the fact that this project was to dispose of D Float. As clearly acknowledged in the city bid proposal and the city contract the timbers in the float were (as anyone should know) all known to be chemically treated and would require special handling and disposal by the contractor.

    However in the November 13, 2013 DEC black smoke burn permit application signed by the RR’s rep and marine contractor’s rep it mentions dock timbers and debris but doesn’t mention that any of the wood may be treated. Remember this application process is specifically to determine whether any material proposed to be burned would emit black smoke. This is when they should have listed any treated or painted wood they would be burning but they did not. And this is when the DEC should have asked, “What? How can dock timbers and debris NOT be treated?”, but did not.

    Therefore the DEC denied their request for a permit based on the fact that they did not identify or reveal that any treated or painted wood would be burned. Both the RR’s rep (councilwoman Terry) and contractor rep signed an oath on the back page that read all information was complete, true, and accurate. That was in November. That application was seeking permission for one, single-day fire of untreated and unpainted wood.

    Allegedly some mistakenly took this as an approved application and to mean that it was okay to burn all the treated wood accumulated by the city and RR over several days.

    Two stockpiles of dock demolition debris and other “assorted dunnage” were piled up in plain view of the big picture windows at the RR offices over the course of the next two months and then burned for three days Jan 9-11. Knowing the dock was treated and the contract with the city was to dispose of it and permit app to the DEC and local fire permit to specifically burn it, its surprising to me to hear all of the denials that the dock was in fact burned flying around with such conviction.

    Its now time for explanations and apologies and making plans to dispose of the rest of our old chemically treated docks that need replacing legally and safely.