Village vows to protect workers threatened by youths

Stebbins pledges help after juveniles steal company vehicles and threaten foreman.

Associated PressAugust 10, 2012 

The Northwest Alaska community of Stebbins has pledged to protect construction workers who walked off a major village project after they were threatened by juveniles.

City administrator Nora Toms said Friday that the community hosted a meeting with contractor STJ Inc., utility representatives and state officials and pledged to provide a public safety officer to protect workers as they complete a petroleum storage project.

"The crew is coming back on Monday," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Alaska State Troopers say unsupervised minors were the source of the trouble, stealing company four-wheelers, smashing them into fences and threatening a foreman who attempted to retrieve the equipment.

A holdup to completing petroleum storage facilities is a considerable threat to the community. Stebbins has fewer than 600 residents. It's about 120 miles southeast across Norton Sound from Nome, and is accessible only by air or water. A failure to lay in petroleum before winter freeze-up would mean having to fly in fuel to heat homes and keep the lights on.

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative Inc. is overseeing construction of the roughly 800,000-gallon tank farm, said President Meera Kohler. Eighty percent of the community's former storage was taken offline to prepare for the new tank farm.

The new facility was 95 percent completed when juveniles menaced construction workers last weekend, Kohler said.

Two youths stole a four-wheeler and drove it from the fenced construction site at about 2 a.m. Saturday. The project foreman chased them down with another all-terrain vehicle but when he dismounted, the youths stole the second four-wheeler.

The man eventually was confronted by eight or nine juveniles, including one who spat in his face and another who drove into him. Fearing for his life, he took shelter behind the fenced construction area and locked himself in the cab of a loader until he could use his cellphone to call two electricians on the job, who were armed.

Alaska State Troopers heard about the incident afterward and flew to the village Wednesday. They attended the community meeting Thursday night and arrested two juveniles Friday.

The juveniles were charged with vehicle theft, multiple assault counts, criminal mischief and reckless driving, Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. They were transported to the youth correctional facility in Nome.

Alaska Village Electric Cooperative spokeswoman Anna Sattler said the construction company likely will finish the project with its own security personnel on hand until a third juvenile is taken into custody.

The youths have caused trouble for residents as well as the outsiders, Kohler said: "They are absolutely unafraid of consequences."

The incident underscores the problem of uncontrolled youths in rural Alaska communities, Kohler said, and the lack of village public safety officers.

"The communities need to get the assistance they need to resolve (the problems)," she said.

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