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Aleuts Get Bad News From Appeals Court


April 25, 2005

The saga of a small, impoverished Alaskan island and its innovative effort to better itself with a surplus World War II dry-dock took a turn for the worst last week.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that title to the dry-dock, now berthed in an Hawaiian shipyard, had reverted to the General Services Administration.  A three-judge panel held that Tanadgusix Corp., the Native Corporation for the island of St. Paul, had failed to take the floating dry-dock back to Alaska.

The court said that effectively breached a contract that the corporation, known as TDX, had with the government in 2001.  From the outset of the case, Tanadgusix has stated it intended all along to keep the dry-dock in Hawaii and fly residents from St. Paul to Hawaii to learn maritime skills. 

The appeals court said that may be true, but that the company's written agreement with GSA called for the dry-dock to be placed in Alaska - not Hawaii. 

TDX officials said they are studying whether to seek a rehearing of the dispute by the appeals court. In any event, they said they hope Congress can resolve the dispute so that the dry-dock can be put to good use.   "We still hope Congress may grant us some relief and may provide a way for this dry-dock to continue to have a useful life" said Ron Philemonoff, TDX CEO. 

Philemonoff that the ruling was another setback for the approximately 800 people who live on the small, barren island in the Bering Sea.  Many of those, like Philemonoff, are Aleuts, descendants of people who was involuntarily sent to the island by Russia more than a century ago to harvest seals.

"The Aleut people have a long history of being mistreated and this ruling is yet another example of how our good intentions become misinterpreted by distant government officials in Washington," Philemonoff said.

"We were pleased that the appeals court noted that there is a genuine disagreement over whether GSA planned to require us to take the World War II-era dry-dock out of Hawaii as the government has alleged," said Philemonoff. 

"We also were happy that the appeals court recognized that the Aleut People of St. Paul Island needed the economic development we were attempting to create," he said.

"TDX cannot afford the expensive and punitive damages that the Justice Department has said it is seeking in this case," he said. "If the court's opinion stands, we will lose all we have invested in this dry-dock, and much, much more" he said. 

Philemonoff said, "The Aleuts of St. Paul will have lost what we hoped was a wonderful way to train St. Paul residents off island in the maritime trades."

"From the outset of this litigation, we have stated clearly and firmly that our objective was to use the dry-dock in Hawaii.  We realized, and representatives of the state of Alaska made clear to us, that they did not want the dry-dock to be brought to Alaska in a way that would place it in competition with the state-owned shipyard here," said Philemonoff.

"We believed that we had a good plan for the dry-dock, the people of St. Paul, and the maritime industry in Hawaii.  It's unfortunate that the courts missed some of the facts in this case and have chosen to not to agree with our good intentions. If anything, the mistake made here was our unfortunate error in trusting the integrity and good intentions of government officials," he said.

Philemonoff said, "This is a sad turn of events for our island which, as the court noted, has a history of difficult economic times."

Related articles:

St. Paul Island Native Corporation Allowed to Continue Federal Work
SitNews - August 20, 2004

Remote Alaskan Island Faces Economic Peril Under Proposed Federal Sanctions
SitNews - July 15, 2004

Source of News:

Tanadgusix Corporation
Web Site

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