Juneau wastewater superintendent indicted

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A federal grand jury has indicted the superintendent of Juneau's wastewater utility on felony charges that he violated the Clean Water Act.

The indictment accuses Andrew Bronson of diluting two water samples from the Mendenhall sewage treatment plant that were to be tested for compliance with pollution control standards enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a $250,000 fine, according to Kevin Feldis of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage.

The Juneau Assembly has agreed in principle to pick up costs of Bronson's defense and some assembly members say they believe Bronson is innocent of the charges.

Bronson is to be arraigned Jan. 11.

According to the indictment, Bronson received a letter from EPA in May 1998 identifying several violations of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for the Mendenhall plant and threatening penalties. A few months later, he ''knowingly tampered with and rendered inaccurate a monitoring method ... in an effort to insure that the monitoring results reported to the EPA did not exceed the NPDES permit limits,'' according to the indictment.

Bronson is still employed by the city.

Juneau Assemblywoman Cathy Munoz said that elected officials have been kept abreast of developments.

''The city is committed to protecting the employee, and we believe this particular employee had a long record of superior service to the plant, and I believe charges will be found to be unsubstantiated,'' Munoz said.

Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said he does not think federal officials are acting in good faith. Based on comments by City Attorney John Corso and City Manager Dave Palmer during an executive session of the assembly Dec. 4, a ''chain of events'' supports Bronson's innocence and calls into question the motives of EPA and the U.S. Attorney's Office, MacKinnon said.

Part of the evidence against Bronson is surveillance video that is being used ''out of context,'' MacKinnon said, declining to elaborate.

Corso and Palmer saw excerpts in Anchorage on Nov. 30, while meeting with representatives of the EPA and the U.S. attorney, but were denied a request to see the video in its entirety, he said. There are between four and six hours of video, he said, and the video is a mystery to him.

''As I understand it, it was a concealed camera,'' MacKinnon said. ''Who concealed it, I don't know. It was not the city's camera. It was not an internal monitoring system or anything.''

The assembly's unanimous decision to pay for Bronson's defense, authorized but not required under a city ordinance, sends a message that the city is backing its employee, MacKinnon said.

''I've heard nothing but glowing comments about his performance. ... I think that plant has had a major turnaround in the last couple of years, attributable to Andy Bronson.''

Corso said he is negotiating with Bronson's attorney on the terms of an agreement for the city to pay defense costs. As of Tuesday, they still were discussing whether the money would be subject to reimbursement, depending upon the outcome of the case, Corso said.

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