Tag Archives: Lake Lucille

Vanity Fair Discovers Sarah Palin is Loud and Secretive

Excellent detailed piece on Sarah Palin by journalist Michael Joseph Gross in the October 2010 issue of Vanity Fair

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Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury

Former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin speaks at the "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on August 28, 2010.

Even as Sarah Palin’s public voice grows louder, she has become increasingly secretive, walling herself off from old friends and associates, and attempting to enforce silence from those around her. Following the former Alaska governor’s road show, the author delves into the surreal new world Palin now inhabits—a place of fear, anger, and illusion, which has swallowed up the engaging, small-town hockey mom and her family—and the sadness she has left in her wake.

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Palin Took Freebies, Help Selling House As Mayor

The former home of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Wasilla Lake in Wasilla, Alaska, is seen Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. Two months before Palin's tenure as mayor ended in 2002, she asked city planning officials to forgive zoning violations so she could sell the house.

The former home of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Wasilla Lake in Wasilla, Alaska, is seen Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. Two months before Palins tenure as mayor ended in 2002, she asked city planning officials to forgive zoning violations so she could sell the house.

Yet more of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s distortions and lies have been revealed in regards to her tenure as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.  Contrary to her self-proclaimed role as a fighter against corruption, Mayor Palin was not at all above accepting gifts and seeking favoritism, both for herself and her friends.  In a report by Brett J. Blackledge for the HuffingtonPost.com published September 28, 2008, he scrutinizes the many benefits and perks of Mayor Palin’s administration.

Though Sarah Palin depicts herself as a pit bull fighting good-old-boy politics, in her years as mayor she and her friends received special benefits more typical of small-town politics as usual, an Associated Press investigation shows.

When Palin needed to sell her house during her last year as Wasilla mayor, she got the city to sign off on a special zoning exception _ and did so without keeping a promise to remove a potential fire hazard.

She gladly accepted gifts from merchants: A free “awesome facial” she raved about in a thank-you note to a spa. The “absolutely gorgeous flowers” she received from a welding supply store. Even fresh salmon to take home.

She also stepped in to help friends or neighbors with City Hall dealings. She asked the City Council to add a friend to the list of speakers at a 2002 meeting _ and then the friend got up and asked them to give his radio station advertising business.

That year, records show, she tried to help a neighbor and political contributor fighting City Hall over his small lakeside development. Palin wanted the city to refund some of the man’s fees, but the city attorney told the mayor she didn’t have the authority.

Palin claims she has more executive experience than her opponent and the two presidential candidates, but most of those years were spent running a city with a population of less than 7,000.

Some of her first actions after being elected mayor in 1996 raised possible ethical red flags: She cast the tie-breaking vote to propose a tax exemption on aircraft when her father-in-law owned one, and backed the city’s repeal of all taxes a year later on planes, snow machines and other personal property. She also asked the council to consider looser rules for snow machine races. Palin and her husband, Todd, a champion racer, co-owned a snow machine store at the time.

Palin often told the City Council of her personal involvement in such issues, but that didn’t stop her from pressing them, according to minutes of council meetings.

She sometimes followed a cautious path in the face of real or potential conflicts _ for example, stepping away from the table in 1997 when the council considered a grant for the Iron Dog snow machine race in which her husband competes.

But mostly, like other Wasilla elected officials at the time, she took an active role on issues that directly affected and sometimes benefited her. Her efforts to clear the way for the $327,000 sale of the Palin family home on Lake Wasilla is an example.

Two months before Palin’s tenure as mayor ended in 2002, she asked city planning officials to forgive zoning violations so she could sell her house. Palin had a buyer, but he wouldn’t close the deal unless she persuaded the city to waive the violations with a code variance.

The Palins, who were finishing work on a new waterfront house on Lake Lucille about two miles away, asked the city for the variance. The request was opposed by one planning official and some neighbors.

“I would ask that the Wasilla Planning Commission apply the exact same rules in this situation that it would apply to other similar requests so that our community can see that being a public figure does not give anyone special benefits,” urged neighbor Clyde Boyer Jr. in a 2002 note to the city.

The Palins’ house was built by the original owner too close to the shoreline and too close to adjacent properties on each side, including a carport that stretched so far over it nearly connected the two houses.

The Palins didn’t create the zoning problems, but they should have known about them when they bought the house, wrote Susan Lee, a code compliance officer with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, in response to the Palins’ request. The borough, similar to a county government, makes recommendations to the city, which has final say.

Lee, in recommending the city reject the request, noted that the exception was needed to resolve an “inconvenience” the Palins experienced while trying to sell their house. In 1989, another borough planner told a previous owner that a variance for the carport couldn’t be approved because it didn’t meet required conditions and was a potential fire hazard.

But in August 2002, Wasilla Planner Tim Krug approved a “shoreline setback exception” for the Palins’ house being built too closely to the water. He sent an e-mail to the mayor saying he was drafting another variance for the side of the house built too close to the property line, but that he understood from her that the other side “will be corrected and the carport will be removed.”

Krug asked Palin to let him know if he was wrong in his impression that the carport would be removed.

A few minutes later, the mayor e-mailed back: “Sounds good.”

On Sept. 10, 2002, the seven-member Wasilla Planning Commission unanimously approved a variance for both sides of the property, with language covering “all existing structures.” Less than a week later, the Palins signed a deed to sell the house to Henry Nosek.

The carport was never removed.

Nosek said Sarah Palin didn’t do anything more than any other citizen would have done.

“I sincerely don’t feel that Sarah used her position as mayor at the time to get that accomplished,” said Nosek, who no longer lives in the home.

James Svara, professor of public affairs at Arizona State University and author of “The Ethics Primer for Public Administrators in Government and Nonprofit Organizations,” suggested such behavior is part of small-town politics.

“Small towns are first-person politics, and if people are close, it’s hard to separate one’s own personal interest and one’s own personal property from the work of the city,” Svara said. The key questions from an ethics standpoint include whether the politician makes a potential conflict of interest known and removes himself or herself from actions related to it, he added.

“I think in a small town there is a greater likelihood that people will accept that you will pay careful attention to friends and neighbors,” he said, adding that there may be some local gossip about it, but not a lot of public scrutiny. “At the national level, there will be far more people watching, there will be far more pressures to come forward to try to influence the outcome.”

Palin Took Freebies, Help Selling House As Mayor

Sarah Palin’s Dead Lake Lucille: Palin has “Fouled Her Own Nest”

Vehicles drive past strip malls on the Parks Highway through Wasilla, Alaska

Vehicles drive past strip malls on the Parks Highway through Wasilla, Alaska

In a September 19, 2008 article by David Talbot for Salon.com, it seems even the beautiful, picturesque Lake Lucille bordering Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s family home has been ‘killed’ by her political ambition.  The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has had Lake Lucille on the “impaired” list since 1994. Over-development in the town of Wasilla, Alaska has lead to excessive plant growth in the lake caused by runoff from sewer lines, fertilizer and toxins from the six-lane highway.  Unrestrained plant growth sucks all the oxygen out of the water, thereby killing all the fish and rendering the lake ‘dead.’

Every morning she’s at home here, Sarah Palin wakes up to a postcard view from her lakeside home. Out the windows of her two-story wood-framed house stretch the serene, birch-lined waters of Lake Lucille. Ducks go gliding by the red-and-white Piper Cub floatplane docked outside. With the snow-frosted Chugach and Talkeetna mountains looming in the distance, the scene seems to define the Alaska that Palin celebrates: rugged, majestic, unspoiled.

And, yet, the lake Sarah Palin lives on is dead.

“Lake Lucille is basically a dead lake — it can’t support a fish population,” said Michelle Church, a Mat-Su Valley borough assembly member and environmentalist. “It’s a runway for floatplanes.”

Palin recently told the New Yorker magazine that Alaskans “have such a love, a respect for our environment, for our lands, for our wildlife, for our clean water and our clean air. We know what we’ve got up here and we want to protect that, so we’re gonna make sure that our developments up here do not adversely affect that environment at all. I don’t want development if there’s going to be that threat to harming our environment.”

But as mayor of her hometown, say many local critics, Palin showed no such stewardship.

“Sarah’s legacy as mayor was big-box stores and runaway growth,” said Patty Stoll, a retired Wasilla schoolteacher who once worked in the same school with Palin’s parents, Chuck and Sally Heath. “The truth is, Wasilla is just plain ugly, it’s not a pleasant place to live. It’s not thought out. And that’s a shame.

“Sarah fouled her own nest, and I can’t understand why. I hate to think it was simply greed or ambition.”

Among the environmental casualties of Wasilla’s frenzied development was Palin’s own front yard, Lake Lucille. The lake was listed as “impaired” in 1994 by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and it still carries that grim label. State environmental officials say that leaching sewer lines and fertilizer runoff caused an explosion of plant growth in the lake, which sucked the oxygen out of the water and led to periodic fish kills.

“Sarah,” a recent biography of Palin by Kaylene Johnson, features a photo of a beaming Palin, sitting in a rowboat on Lake Lucille clutching a fishing rod. But, according to local fishermen, the Republican vice-presidential candidate would have to be very lucky to reel in something edible.

The Alaska Fish and Game Department dutifully stocks the lake with coho salmon and rainbow trout each year — but the fish don’t last long.

Fishing on the lake “was tough,” reported Alaska fishing guide Carlyle Telford on his Web site when he tried his luck on Lake Lucille last year, “because the vegetation is decaying and floating. When you retrieve every cast, the fly comes back with crud on it.”

In a recent phone conversation, Telford said he hasn’t returned to Lake Lucille since then. “I think the lake’s pretty dead,” he said. “That’s why I haven’t been back.”

Wasilla, where Palin grew up and still resides, sprawls between two lakes — Lucille and Wasilla Lake. Cottonwood Creek, which flows in and out of Wasilla Lake, has also been labeled “impaired” by state environmental officials, after foam was detected on the water surface and subsequent testing found excessive concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria.

The two lakes are the town jewels, the only eye relief along a harrowing corridor of strip malls, big-box stores and fast-food drive-throughs that is Wasilla. “Lord, help me get through Wasilla,” reads one Alaska bumper sticker.

The population in Mat-Su Valley began booming in the 1970s with the Alaska oil pipeline and the influx of oil workers from Texas and Oklahoma. But while some valley towns tried to control growth — like nearby Palmer, which was originally settled by Midwest farmers as part of a Roosevelt social experiment in the 1930s — Wasilla took a frontier, boom-town approach. Soon the Parks Highway, which cuts straight through Wasilla, and its arteries were lined with a chaotic bazaar of quickie espresso shacks, moose-stuffing taxidermists, Bible churches, gun stores, tattoo and piercing parlors, mattress barns and the inevitable box stores with their football-field parking lots.

John Stein, Palin’s predecessor as Wasilla mayor, tried gamely to get a handle on the commercial free-for-all. He made an effort to restore the health of Lake Lucille, which, he said, “was turning into a bog.”

“We brought up a scientist to study both lakes,” Stein recalled. “We also worked with the state to filter storm drainage from the highway.”

Controlling runoff from the six-lane highway is a key to saving the lakes in Wasilla. Other cities have their industrial pollution problems; Wasilla has highway pollution. “Anything that comes off an automobile — oil, antifreeze, de-icing agents, heavy metals — all of that can run off into the lakes when it rains,” observed Archie Giddings, Wasilla’s public works director.

But while Mayor Stein tried to impose some reason on Wasilla’s helter-skelter development, and its growing pressures on Mat-Su Valley’s environmental treasures, when Sarah Palin took his place, she quickly announced, “Wasilla is open for business.”

“That’s for sure,” Church said. “Sarah was so eager for big-box stores to move in that she allowed Fred Meyer to build right on Wasilla Lake, and her handpicked successor, Dianne Keller, has done the same with Target.”

Under Mayor Palin’s reign, Fred Meyer, an emporium that sells everything from groceries to gold watches to gardening tools, lost no time in leveling a stand of trees overlooking the lake for its big-box store. When Fred Meyer applied for permission to pump the storm drainage from its parking lot — with all the usual automobile sludge — into the lake, outraged citizens finally cried enough.

“We mobilized public opposition,” said Church, who led the Friends of Mat-Su, a pro-planning group, at the time. “We forced them to put in ditches and grassy swales to catch the runoff.

“Sarah was such a great cheerleader for Wasilla, but she did nothing to protect its beauty. She’d go to these Chamber of Commerce meetings and say, ‘Wasilla is the most beautiful place in the world!’ And we’d just sit there gagging.”

A city official in nearby Palmer, who has lived in the Mat-Su Valley his whole life, sadly admitted: “Sarah sent the growth into overdrive. And now they’re choking on traffic and sprawl, all built on their ignorance and greed.

“I try to avoid driving to Wasilla so I won’t get depressed,” added the official, who asked for his name to be withheld, to avoid Palin’s “wrath.”

“You get visually mugged when you drive through there. I take the long way, through the back roads, just to avoid it.”

Wasilla City Council member Dianne Woodruff hears the same lament about her town all the time. “Everywhere in Alaska, you hear people say, ‘We don’t want to be another Wasilla.’ We’re not just the state’s meth capital, we’re the ugly box-store capital. Was Sarah a good steward of this beautiful valley? No. I think it comes from her lack of experience and awareness of other places, how other cities try to preserve what makes them attractive and livable.

“The frontier mentality has prevailed for so long in Mat-Su Valley — the feeling that ‘you’re not going to tell me what to do with my land,'” added Woodruff. “That’s fine as long as you have endless open space. But when you start to fill in as a city, you can end up with a sprawling mess. With million-dollar homes next to gravel pits — and dead lakes.”

In recent years, after Palin’s departure from City Hall, Wasilla has been “changing and learning,” according to Woodruff. The city has taken steps to control toxic runoff into its two lakes.

But Wasilla still doesn’t test the lakes’ water quality — that’s left up to volunteer groups, which periodically take samples from the lakes, according to city officials.

Why is there no official effort to test the local waters?

“That’s a good question,” said Wasilla public works chief Giddings, after a long, thoughtful pause. “I guess we’re still ahead of the curve. We haven’t seen huge concerns about the lakes yet.”

Giddings acknowledged that there has been some public concern about swimming in the lakes, but not enough to prompt the city to monitor the water quality. If the public did start complaining about skin rashes, diarrhea and other health problems, “the state would probably step in,” he added.

Would Giddings let his own children swim in Wasilla’s lakes? “Yes,” he said.

But Laura Eldred, an environmental program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, offered a more qualified response. She would swim in the local lakes, but would “take the usual hygiene precautions,” without specifying what those measures were.

“Sarah did nothing to protect our lakes; in fact, she obstructed efforts to improve our water quality,” said city watchdog Anne Kilkenny. The property surrounding Wasilla’s two lakes is privately owned, complicating the city’s efforts to protect these natural treasures. While her predecessor, Mayor Stein, moved to incorporate the homes surrounding the two lakes — like the Palin family residence — so the city could control runoff from the dwellings, Palin campaigned for “no more annexation.”

“Sarah hasn’t traveled outside of Alaska much,” said Kilkenny. “She hasn’t seen dead lakes and rivers.”

Now Palin can see one right out her window.

Sarah Palin’s Dead Lake Lucille

Lake Lucille in Wasilla, Alaska

Lake Lucille in Wasilla, Alaska