LONG BEACH - After telling the Pacific County Noxious Weed Control Board last month he was in negotiations to sell the Moby Dick Hotel to the Aryan Nations white supremacist group, hotel "executive steward" Keith Stavrum showed up at last week's meeting with someone who acted the part.
Stavrum was there to make a presentation to the board on behalf of Moby Dick's plan to mow spartina, instead of having it sprayed.
At the April 13 weed board meeting, a man who signed in as "Jack Miller" told the board as it was about to adjourn, "I just want you guys to continue spraying so my group can come down and buy his property." This man spent the evening glaring at weed board members and staff, when he wasn't ducking in order to avoid having a clear photo taken, and lightly cuffed a reserve law officer on the shoulder on his way out the door.
The man with closely cropped red hair did not identify himself before he spoke, but wrote ditto quotation marks beneath Pacific Northwest Shellfish/Moby Dick as to what organization he was representing at the hour and a quarter meeting. Although Stavrum now denies any knowledge of the man's identity, he sat next to Stavrum and conversed with him throughout the meeting.
Weed board members, staff and a reporter in the room incorrectly surmised that the stranger speaking was Paul Mullet, a leader of one faction of Aryans Nations, who has recently been shopping for land in Eastern Oregon for a new national headquarters. This misimpression was reported in the online edition of the Chinook Observer but was corrected the next day when the editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper in John Day, Ore., examined a photo taken at the Long Beach meeting and determined it was not Mullet, whom she previously interviewed in person.
Efforts to locate "Jack Miller" have not been successful since the meeting. In an interview last week, the real Mullet said he had no previous knowledge of the existence of Moby Dick Hotel or the Long Beach Peninsula.
An acquaintance of Stavrum's told the Chinook Observer last week "Keith was asking me to find people to come to pose at that meeting - as what is unknown." This person did not participate in any possible role-playing and isn't being identified.
Following the meeting, Pacific County Administrator Bryan Harrison asked Stavrum, "Why would you sell to the Aryan Nations?" Stavrum answered, "Because they made a $3 million offer." In a written statement last week, Stavrum said, "If Moby Dick does not receive support from the community at the weed board meeting, they all will be happy in knowing they are leaving you with the gift you deserve."
An elaborate build-up According to a tape transcript of the March 9 weed board meeting, Stavrum stated, "I have started negotiations - because I figure if I can't do this here we might as well donate it to a group that will bring a workforce at least to the oyster industry- and, uh, I have started negotiations with Pat Mullet and, uh, you know, if I get fed up which I probably will, uh, I will tell you that we will donate it to become the Pacific Northwest headquarters of the Aryan Nation. They don't want them in Oregon, I'm bringing them here."
He continued, "I'm fed up. They came down two days ago, we had a meeting and I said we will see, we'll see whatever you want to do. If we do such a thing, there is gonna be a workforce leaving the area for sure. I don't want to do that. And when we go to court this whole area will be on national news just like the (inaudible) that made the front page of the USA Today."
Stavrum made similar threats at the last Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce meeting, without specifically identifying a buyer. Stavrum claimed in a written statement given to Chinook Observer April 12, that "buyer's will be there awaiting outcome" of the weed board meeting and added, "Ocean Park is the perfect place for us. Mullet, the national director of the group. It is a small community. It needs revitalization. And to give the white supremacist group a new national headquarters."
Following an uproar in regional publications and broadcast media since the weed board meeting, Stavrum has attempted to deny the Aryan Nations threat. In a comment posted to the Longview Daily News, he said, "Never has owner Moby, EVER said 'sell to the Aryans.'"
In an interview with the Chinook Observer last Wednesday, he even denied dropping off his written statement at the Observer, despite being positively identified by the newspaper's front office staff based in part on earlier press photographs and confirmed by his later television appearance on KATU. Though denying authorship, Stavrum exhibited a detailed knowledge of the written statement delivered to the Observer and falsely claimed the part about Mullet mentioning Ocean Park was a quote from the Blue Mountain Eagle.
To the Observer Stavrum repeated his claim last week that he has a bona fide offer of $3 million for the hotel and related property, which is listed by Pacific County as owned by Moby Dick Corp., with an assessed valuation of $495,300. Two other parcels of Moby Dick land are assessed at $104,000, and two pieces of tideland at $200. Separate real estate owned by Felice "Fritzi" Cohen, who originally purchased the Moby Dick in the 1980s with her late husband, is assessed at $526,500. Stavrum refused to identify this alleged buyer when asked last Wednesday.
Cohen more circumspect Cohen herself has been more circumspect in her public statements, but has thus far refused to rule out selling to Aryan Nations. For example, in an interview with the Daily News, she said "Basically, as far as I'm concerned, if I decide to sell, I would sell to whoever met my price. At that point I'd become a real capitalist. Isn't that what the United States is all about?"
Asked how a Jewish woman could accept money from a neo-Nazi group, Cohen reportedly responded "I think it's a much more complicated issue than that. The Jewish people are a very complicated people - very complicated. I would do nothing to try to harm the Jewish people."
In last Wednesday's interviews with KATU, neither Cohen nor Stavrum denied being interested in selling to Aryan Nations.
Stavrum justified the supposed plan by saying "We've been going through some court battles where there's a lot of things that have been anti-Semitic directed at Miss Cohen." Cohen herself declined to comment on the reputed sale to KATU but said "I have to tell you that I'm very, very angry."
Stavrum was the subject of a glowingly positive feature article in the April 14, 1999, Chinook Observer, in which he said he had been a Catholic schoolboy while growing up, an Eagle Scout and an Army Ranger. He arrived here after a 1996 conviction on felony drug charges in St. Cloud, Minn., followed in March 1999 by a misdemeanor arrest in Marion County, Ore., for giving false information to police and minor drug possession. Stavrum faced charges of first-degree "criminal impersonation" in South Bend Municipal Court in August 2002. This charge was later dismissed at the same time he was fined by the South Bend court for driving with a suspended license.
According to the Benton County, Minn., sheriff's office "Most Wanted" website, Stavrum still faces a warrant for his arrest there. The sheriff's office did not respond to an inquiry this week into the underlying facts of this listing.
Aryan Nations responds Paul (not Pat) R. Mullet in a telephone interview on April 14 stated that he was not in Long Beach on April 13 for the Pacific County weed control board meeting and that he has never been in Long Beach.
"I am in Ohio right now," Mullet said. "I Googled Long Beach to find out where it is. I will be calling local law enforcement tomorrow to have the two individuals who made a claim to be me arrested. This person that is impersonating me will have many questions to answer."
Authorities said this week that even if someone did go to the weed board meeting with the intention of being confused for Mullet, it's unlikely any law was broken.
Stavrum told the Observer last Wednesday that he had just gotten off the phone with Mullet. Mullet told KATU last week that this interchange was a heated argument.
"We have not made an offer to buy any property in Long Beach or the surrounding area," Mullet told the TV station. "Whoever was there was not Aryan Nations, was not a member of the Aryan Nations and was not me."
Fight over spartina The issue behind the threats is spraying spartina, a Class-A noxious weed in Washington, with the herbicide Habitat. Cohen has land along Willapa Bay that has spartina growing on it. A court order has mandated that all property owners eradicate the noxious weed spartina by winter of 2012 and Moby Dick's plan is to mow.
County noxious weed coordinator Tim Crose said, "Right now, we are receiving state and federal funding to eradicate spartina on both public and private lands within the Willapa Bay watershed. When that money runs out and we haven't eradicated it, the Class A mandate for state-wide spartina eradication will not go away. It will be up to individual landowners to pay out of their own pocket to eradicate their spartina. That is why it is so important to get rid of the spartina now."
Spartina was introduced to the bay with just a few plants in about 1894 and the non-native weed eventually smothered between 8,500 to 9,000 acres of pristine Willapa Bay before spraying began to successfully eradicate it. Crose testified, "There were only 82 acres of spartina treated in 2009 and we anticipate between 10 and 20 acres to be treated in 2010." Crose said, "This was our best year yet. The agencies cooperated and communicated well. We overlapped where we needed to and we took care of the spartina."
Cohen has a separate parcel to the south of Moby Dick and she is the only property owner of over 300 on Willapa Bay to be a county noxious weed board "non-cooperative landowner" as she has failed to provide a plan to eradicate the aquatic weed. The April 13 meeting agenda included Cohen presenting her eradication plan, but she was not present. A letter from her attorney said it would be unconstitutional to make a decision without her being at the meeting.
No decision last week Chairman Bob Rose, a 30-year veteran on the weed control board, made no decision as Cohen failed to provide a plan on which to decide.
Crose said, "She owns a 65-foot swath of bay property with about a foot to a foot and a half wide patch of spartina on it." Harrison related later, "The county will either put down a five-foot wide barrier around the (Cohen-Moby Dick) property or they will mow that five-foot buffer area. They will then precision-spray herbicide using the backpack method as they did last summer."
Stavrum presented photographs of Moby Dick-owned tidelands and said the pictures show that mowing works better than spraying. Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge David Edwards ruled in June 2009 that the weed control board violated the rights of Moby Dick Corp. when it rejected the company's plan to control spartina manually with weed whackers.
The judge said the weed board acted in an "arbitrary and capricious manner" and that the company could proceed with its plan to control the invasive weed without chemicals.
Last week, oysterman Brian Sheldon disagreed that mowing is effective. "We (Northern Oyster Company) have spent more money on spartina than probably anybody and mowing doesn't work. Moby Dick has cost us a lot of money because they haven't taken care of spartina and it has spread to our oyster beds."
Crose asked Stavrum, "Will Fritzi let me on her land? Last year she booted me off, despite me being allowed two court-ordered inspections. You were there, Keith. You saw what happened." Crose said of backpack spraying, "We couldn't get under the spartina like we wanted to so were not as effective, but we cut way down on the drift of spray near Moby Dick." Oysterman Warren Cowell said, "My beds have been cleared of 99.9 percent of spartina because they came in and sprayed." The backpack method cut down significantly on drift and was about 85 percent effective.
Stavrum contended, "I just want the county to quit dumping poison on my land so I can start selling our oysters again." He said, "I'm not here to kill every first born." Sheldon countered by saying, "Moby Dick's ban on oysters is self-imposed."
Senior oysterman Dick Sheldon said, "I hope this doesn't set precedence for weed boards throughout our state." He then requested the board make sure spartina is eradicated from their property. Board Chairman Rose said, "That is what we intend to do."
Another round on May 11 Pacific County prosecuting attorney David Burke said, "Cohen has to respond in person, by letter, or by her attorney or representative. She needs a reasonable time to do so. Tim (Crose) will you have her give the weed board a written plan by May 6 and we will meet May 11?" Stavrum said, "She'll be here on May 11."
The next noxious weed control board meeting will be at the Pacific County Building at 7013 Sandridge at 7 p.m., May 11. On the agenda will be Cohen's plan to eradicate spartina from her property as a "non-cooperative landowner."
Agenda item "Other business" may be interesting, as well.