A Mat-Su septic pumper was jailed Wednesday for threatening an Alaska State Trooper investigating reports in September that the man was dumping raw sewage into a creek near his Houston home, troopers say.
Samples of the creek water later showed dangerous levels of human fecal bacteria, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday. On Wednesday, troopers and local police officers arrested Kenneth Champ, owner of Champ Septic Pumping, and found 1,700 marijuana plants on the property, the court papers say.
Champ, 48, currently faces state charges for assaulting a trooper. But state prosecutors say they are looking over evidence and reviewing charges for alleged illegal dumping. And drug and weapons charges are also pending in federal court, troopers said.
A neighbor who lives adjacent to Champ's West Bench Lake Drive home in Houston called troopers in September to report what she believed to be sewage flowing from Champ's septic pumping truck into a creek that flows through her property, into another creek and eventually into the Little Susitna River.
The Little Susitna is about 3,000 feet from the property. Neither prosecutors nor the Department of Environmental Conservation would comment on the extent of possible contamination.
Neighbors said they suspected illegal dumping over much of the summer because of the stench and trucks heading to the property on narrow dirt roads. During a visit by the Daily News to the property of one neighbor, Ursa Lively, in September, reddish sludge could be seen along the property line. A creek meandering across her property was red-brown below Champ's property and mostly clear above it.
"The smell just kind of gave it away," Lively said.
According to a trooper affidavit filed in state court this week, Trooper Matthew Heieren went to talk to Champ on Sept. 26. Heieren knocked on the door of a white trailer, and a man later identified as Champ answered. Heieren said he wanted to talk to Champ about possible sewage dumping. Champ told the trooper to leave and shut the door, the affidavit says.
Heieren had just started walking out of Champ's driveway, where several "no trespassing signs" were posted, when dispatchers radioed the trooper that Champ was on the phone making threats, according to the trooper affidavit.
"He stated on 911 that there was a trooper on his property and he is going to shoot and has a gun in his hand," the affidavit says. "Champ made the threat more than once on the recorded 911 line ... Heieren shone his flashlight down the driveway towards the trailer and drew his firearm, afraid for his life."
Another trooper picked up Heieren, who later forwarded charges to the Palmer district attorney, the affidavit says.
A few days later, a trooper accompanied a staff member from the Department of Environmental Conservation, who collected samples from the creek below Champ's property.
"A laboratory analysis ... disclosed the fecal coliform concentration were over safe limits and were indicative of illegal sewage dumping," according to an affidavit filed in federal court Thursday.
On Wednesday, troopers, a DEC investigator, Wasilla and Palmer police and at least one person affiliated with the Drug Enforcement Administration searched Champ's home and other buildings on the West Bench Lake Road property, which is owned by Champ's brother, according to the federal court document.
In one outbuilding, about 200 feet from Champ's trailer, they found a large-scale marijuana grow operation with 1,700 plants, grow lights, a filtration system and a watering system. In Champ's trailer, they found a scale, processed marijuana, five firearms and about $18,000 in cash. Troopers said Champ was arrested without incident. He had another $2,000 in his wallet, according to the court document.
Champ was arraigned in Palmer court for the assault of a police officer charge Thursday and held at Mat-Su Pre-Trial Facility. No charges have yet been filed based on the federal court affidavit for the drug case.
State prosecutors with the Office of Special Prosecutions declined to comment on specifics from the investigation of Champ's alleged environmental crimes and would not say when, if at all, illegal dumping charges would be filed.
"Environmental crimes are difficult to investigate; they're complex," said Assistant District Attorney Clint Campion. "It's not just something where you can immediately make a charging decision."
"We would like to make a decision sooner than three months, but that's how long it's taking," Campion said.
Lively said Thursday she was glad to hear Champ had been arrested and had been concerned about living next to Champ, who had threatened neighbors in the past.
"I'm disappointed it's taken so long," Lively said. "I understand that the wheels of bureaucracy work slowly, but I'm glad it's finally progressing."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.