Whistle blower axed - Page 2

Alcatraz employee fired after telling Guardian reporter about raw sewage spill

For these reasons, we would like to know if the problems …have been thoroughly or should be thoroughly investigated by your agency with assistance from the appropriate federal or local officials.”

Superintendent O’Neill responded that “the investigations were closed as ‘unjustified complaints’” and questioned the origin and verity of the E.Coli test sample, which obtained by Marina Secchitano, regional director of the Inland Boatmen’s Union, who has been protesting Alcatraz Cruises ferry contract with the NPS (See “Casting off,” Sep. 26, 2006).

O’Neill questioned Secchitano’s ability to gain access to the bilge of the boat from where it’s claimed the sample hailed, and also said the results were from a lab where “this was not the kind of testing that they do.” But in fact, someone with access to the bilge gave the sample to Secchitano – and the lab in question, Brelje and Race, confirmed that this is, in fact, exactly the kind of testing they do.

“We received a copy of your letter discrediting our laboratory results,” wrote Ann Hill to the NPS. “Although we can’t vouch for where this sample was collected from, we do stand by our results….We did not tell Alcatraz Cruises that this was not the type of testing we do. I talked with them and told them we did not collect or pick up samples that far away.” Which wasn’t an issue in this case, since a spokesperson for the union told us Secchitano brought the sample to the lab.

As far as what Cooke and an anonymous captain witnessed, O’Neill continued to maintain it was just sea water. “This complaint is erroneous and unjustified; allow us to clarify what happened,” he wrote, submitting as evidence a written statement from the island’s facilities engineer, James L. Adams -- except the incident Adams cites, of a parted salt water line, was four days after the overflowing shit tank that Cooke and the captain saw.

“The letter kind of skirted the question,” said Ma spokesperson, Nick Hardeman, summing up O’Neill’s response. “The Brian O’Neill letter to Fiona and Mark is all the more reason there needs to be an independent investigation. There are disputing facts here. We need to find out what’s going on.” Hardeman has met with Cooke and is in discussion with Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office to determine the proper jurisdiction for a full and independent investigation of the sewage system on Alcatraz and handling of it by Alcatraz Cruises.

Cooke says that’s the only reason he ever noted the spill in the first place. “I want an investigation. I want to go back to work. And I’d like the toilets to get fixed on the island. It’s a basic right for workers and visitors to the park,” he said. “If the net result is the termination of a person related to the leaking of the information, if that’s the only follow-up instead of an investigation, that’s a problem.” At this point, he is considering further legal action but is demanding only that the job he loves be reinstated and the appropriate back pay granted.

“The firing of Dan Cooke clearly raises a red flag,” Ma said in a statement to the Guardian. “My hope is that the National Park Service is committed to the protection of the fragile ecosystem of the Bay. If even some of Mr. Cooke’s allegations are true, it’s clear that NPS mistakenly thinks their reputation matters more than our environment.”