Trial over gold dredge dispute starts this week

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A civil trial that's getting under way this week revolves around conflicts surrounding an abandoned old gold dredge near Chicken.

Bernie Karl, manager of the Chena Hot Springs Resort, intended to relocate the dredge and open it as a visitor attraction. Karl, also president of K&K Recycling, reached an agreement with the Alaska Gold Co. in 1997 to remove the dredge.

Complications arose, however, when the owner, Alaska Gold Co., sold the dredge property before Karl could move the dredge. The deal was reportedly made with miner George Seuffert on the condition that he stick to the company's agreement with Karl.

Karl claims Seuffert then deliberately interfered with the removal of the dredge, resulting in a cost overrun of more than $300,000. He believes Seuffert hoped to keep the dredge for his own possible tourist business, Karl's attorney Joseph Sheehan said during opening statements Wednesday.

On a trip to the site, Karl ''found that Mr. Seuffert had placed his camp right in front of the dredge,'' Sheehan said.

What followed was a rapid exchange of letters between Karl, Seuffert and Alaska Gold regarding their conflicts over the dredge. Alaska Gold eventually distanced itself from the feud. ''What they said is we're just not going to respond at all,'' Sheehan stated.

Meanwhile, Seuffert had applied to have the spot of the dredge reclassified as a wetland, and his wife had spoken to the Department of Natural Resources voicing her concern that the removal of the dredge would harm a federally protected road, Sheehan said.

Karl's original agreement with Alaska Gold expired in November 1998.

As a result of Seuffert's actions, Sheehan said that ''what started out as a project estimated at seven or 10 days worked out as 30 days.'' By Karl's figures the longer operation upped the project cost to $500,000 from an original estimate of less than $200,000.

''That's why we're here,'' Sheehan said. ''Because of the extra time and extra money it took to move this dredge.''

Stan Lewis, representing Seuffert, countered by saying the delays were due to Karl's underestimation of the task and lack of cooperation with Seuffert. ''We believe this is a story about a man who demands his rights be respected but does not respect those of others,'' Lewis said.

Seuffert's original wetlands request stemmed from a concern about possible environmental violations caused by the moving of the dredge, which may have contained such pollutants as lead paint, PCBs and mercury, Lewis said.

The move of Seuffert's mining camp, Lewis stated, could not have been done to deliberately impair the removal. Seuffert had no idea how it was to be removed; Seuffert was not informed of Karl's removal strategy until the day the project began, he said.

''(Karl) had never moved a dredge like this before,'' Lewis said. ''The job was absolutely immense.''

The lawsuit holds that Alaska Gold breached the original agreement by allowing Seuffert to assume control of it, thus changing the grounds on which it was based. Speaking on behalf of the company, Barbara Schuhmann argued that Karl was at fault because he took more than a year to meet the demands of an agreement that called for prompt action.

''Alaska Gold thought that K&K had lost interest,'' she stated.

The trial which is expected to last about three weeks.

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