By Bob Tkacz
A Homer resident, faced with ten criminal charges after allegedly admitting to a state trooper that he floated logs and other debris down the Anchor River to wreck an Alaska Department of Fish and Game weir last June, settled the entire matter with a thousand dollar fine and 30-day suspended jail sentence in a negotiated disposition approved by the trial court in April.
“The whole story was completely fabricated. That one charge was to just let me know how stupid I was,” said Christopher A. Vigue, 46, May 24.
Lance Joanis, state prosecutor in the Third Judicial District, and Deputy Prosecutor Amy Fenske, who handled the case, did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails in May asking why they agreed to dismiss the charges with a confession in hand.
“He admitted throwing them into the river to interfere with the weir installation ... He admitted it was a bad idea for him to throw the logs into the river and he wouldn’t do that again,” said Trooper Mike Henry, the investigating officer, last fall.
The trooper said technicians in the water quickly became suspicious because of the amount of debris that suddenly began flowing by while the river level was dropping. “The description that was given to me was a fairly steady flow of debris over the course of a half our,” Henry said.
In a news account published last summer Vigue denied cutting down trees to throw in the river. The trooper said agency staff working in the river saw fresh-cut trees still bearing green leaves from 20 to 30-feet long and tree stumps up to four feet in diameter floating their way. No one was injured and no equipment was damaged but Henry said, “There was a very near impact” to a sonar unit also in use.
A North Slope oil field worker, Vigue claimed then, and still maintains, that the annual state fish counting project, with a commonly used weir, is destroying Chinook salmon stocks in the river by blocking their progress toward upstream spawning grounds. US Fish & Wildlife Service biologists were working on a screw trap, another type of fish counter, on the day of the incident and Vigue said he confirmed with a US Fish & Wildlife Service employee that it is a violation of federal law to “stop natural fish from where they want to go.”
Weirs are among the most accurate fish-counting methods because fish can be caught and individually tagged, sampled or otherwise measured before being released.
Vigue, who said his last formal biology class was in junior high school, explained that the feds’ screw trap was not a problem, but the weir “is a complete dam” that was stopping returning salmon long enough for them to lay their eggs in areas where they are decimated by predators. “The Dolly Varden, they’re like bull dozers digging in the gravel picking all the eggs out of the gravel,” he said.
“They’re trying to create a lot of work for themselves. I don’t have a lot of respect for state or federal agencies,” he added. ADF&G began counting king and silver salmon returns in the Anchor River with a sonar unit in 2003 and has also used the weir since the summer of 2004.
Vigue was facing maximum penalties including 13 years in prison and more than $134,000 in fines for the June 8 incident. He was never arrested but arraigned last September on five counts of reckless endangerment, two charges of assault and two charges of criminal mischief; all misdemeanors.
Vigue apparently outlasted the state. Of 12 court hearings beginning with an arraignment scheduled for Sept. 14, eight were delayed for various reasons, according to court records. A preliminary hearing scheduled for Oct. 15 was postponed four times until Dec. 3. Likewise, a simple trial call, commonly a session lasting only a few minutes to update the status, motion deadline and other activities of a case, was rescheduled three times from Jan. 10 until it was finally held on April 11.
On April 13 Vigue changed his plea to no contest on a single reckless endangerment charge. He was fined $1,000, which is not due until Dec. 31 of this year, and also paid $100 in court costs and $100 for his court-appointed defense attorney.
Vigue was also given a 30-day suspended sentence and placed on one year’s unsupervised probation. His prior record includes citations for sport fishing in closed waters in 2003 and 2006 and convictions on eight other charges since 2002, including driving while intoxicated and misdemeanor assault.
Bob Tkacz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.