Utility whistleblower case headed for trial

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2003

KETCHIKAN (AP) A former Ketchikan utility employee who claims he was retaliated against for reporting a fuel spill and asbestos contamination will get his day in court next month.

Michael Carlile is suing Ketchikan Public Utilities, the city of Ketchikan, City Manager Karl Amylon and former KPU Electric Division Manager Tom Waggoner.

The trial is set for Sept. 22 in Ketchikan. He filed the lawsuit in late 2001, shortly after resigning from his job with the utility.

The defendants deny any wrongdoing. Their lawyer, Anchorage attorney Frank Koziol, said this week that agencies investigating the reported contamination found no environmental damage.

''The cumulative effects of the inappropriate actions taken against me by KPU management has created a very hostile work environment for me at KPU,'' Carlile wrote in his August 2001 resignation letter, almost two years after he was demoted.

Koziol said Carlile was demoted because of personnel problems unrelated to the events listed in the lawsuit.

According to Carlile's court complaint, his trouble with KPU management began after he started looking into a 1999 gasoline spill at the Swan Lake Hydroelectric Facility, where he was the foreman.

He said he reported the spill to Waggoner and later also told Waggoner about contaminated soil and groundwater.

Carlile subsequently made a report to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Carlile said he later found more contamination, and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard. Bob Fultz, an environmental specialist for DEC in Ketchikan, went with the Coast Guard to look at the contamination. He told the Ketchikan Daily News there was evidence of a spill, and KPU had cleaned up the area.

He said he and Coast Guard investigators were not able to determine how much fuel had spilled, but it seemed that KPU did an adequate clean up of the area.

In December 1999, Carlile was demoted and transferred to another division.

Carlile also alleges that the company warned him in 2001 not to report concerns about asbestos exposure at one of the company's facilities to the state Occupational Safety and Health office. He did so, anyway, he said.

State investigators concluded that employees at a powerhouse had performed work that could have exposed them to asbestos, but had not received proper training and were not wearing the required protective equipment.

KPU was fined about $2,500 and was required to post signs warning people of asbestos in its buildings, train employees in asbestos handling and provide the proper equipment, according to the Ketchikan Daily News.

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