LONG BEACH, Wash. - A Peninsula hotel manager offered Pacific County an ultimatum Tuesday night: If he didn't get his way on preventing pesticide spraying at his property he would sell it to the Aryan Nations for a new Northwest headquarters.
The demand came at the Pacific County Noxious Weed Control Board meeting in Long Beach Tuesday night.
Moby Dick Hotel manager Keith Stravrum had said Monday that the hotel, which is owned by Felice "Fritzi" Cohen, will be sold to Aryan Nations unless Pacific County backs down from a demand that Cohen kill the spartina grass on her property.
"I just want you guys (Pacific County) to continue spraying so my group (Aryan Nations) can come down and buy Moby Dick and Fritzi Cohen's' property," a man in the audience said as Tuesday night's weed control board came to a close. He did not identify himself and stayed to the back of the room with his hand over his face during most of the the hour and a quarter meeting.
There was some speculation that the man might have been Paul R. Mullet, who has been shopping for a new national headquarters for his neo-Nazi Aryan Nations white supremacist group.
On spartina, the current plan is to have the county either put down an expensive barrier five feet around the Cohen-Moby Dick property or to mow that five foot buffer area. They will then precision-spray herbicide using what is referred to as the backpack method.
Pacific County Administrative Officer Bryan Harrison said today that he explained this plan to Stavrum after the meeting adjourned. Stavrum's reply was, "That would help us make our decision."
Mullet has been in the news a great deal in recent months. Aryan Nations floated the possibility in February that they would buy land and relocate to Grant County in Eastern Oregon. There, efforts by the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper, sister paper to The Daily Astorian, and other community members beat back the group's plans. Mullet has previously also expressed an interest in basing his group in Idaho.
Stravrum and Cohen are vocal critics of long-standing efforts by private landowners, Pacific County, the state of Washington and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate spartina in Willapa Bay. An invasive grass accidentally imported from the East Coast, spartina at one time threatened to take over all the bay's tidelands, which are used for commercial oyster production and also serve as valuable habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife. Spartina is classified by Washington state as a Class A noxious weed. State law requires that these weeds be eradicated, and authorities are well on their way to this goal.
An offer made by Aryan Nations In a disjointed statement dropped off at the Chinook Observer newspaper offices in Long Beach Monday, Stravrum said, "If the weed board sprays chemicals next to the Moby Dick again, they have no choice but to accept the offer made to them to sell to a group of people that want to open a headquarters in the Pacific Northwest."
Apparently indicating that he was quoting the Aryan Nations leader, Stravrum went on: "Ocean Park is the perfect place for us, (said) Mullet, who called himself the national director of the group. "It's a small community. It needs revitalization. And to give the white supremacist group the Aryan Nations a new national headquarters."
Stravrum and Cohen, who also owns The Tabard Inn in Washington, D.C., have for years been locked in litigation and other struggles with officials and neighbors over spartina control. They allege that spraying is unnecessary and that the herbicide drifts onto the hotel's own oyster beds, threatening their organic status and causing problems that have interfered with harvests.
In his written statement, Stravrum said he asked the weed board last month to consider mowing the spartina immediately north and south of the hotel's beds to avoid "the proven chemical drift that has caused them, by federal mandate, to close their oyster farm for three years." The hotel's own mowing efforts have been quite effective in driving their spartina to "near extinction," he said.
Payback for the community The Moby Dick originally considered donating the hotel to some conservation-minded nonprofit group, Stravrum said, but has now instead decided to sell to Aryan Nation to punish the community.
"Being they will not be able to carry on the organic work and self sustainable structure of the Moby Dick, because of the few meat heads poisoning our bay, the people of the Moby Dick have decided not to donate, and have received an offer they could not refuse, to include all houses and buildings, because they do not want to live next to these people," he said.
"If the Moby Dick does not receive support from the community, at the weed board meeting, they all will be happy knowing they are leaving you with the gift you deserve," Stravrum wrote.
At the March 25 meeting of the Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce, Stravrum stated that "if they are not able to re-open their oyster beds this year, the Moby Dick property will be donated to 'someone not good for the community.'"
The fight over spartina A court order has mandated that Moby Dick eradicate the noxious weed by winter of 2012 and they are following a plan of mowing.
Cohen has a separate parcel to the south of Moby Dick. She is the only property owner on the entire Willapa Bay to be a county noxious weed board "non-cooperative landowner" as she has failed to provide a plan to eradicate the extremely destructive aquatic weed. She owns a 65-foot swath of bay property with "about a foot to a foot and a half wide patch of spartina," according to noxious weed coordinator Tim Crose.
Spartina was introduced to the bay with just a few plants and the non-native weed eventually smothered between 9,000 and 10,000 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 that there will be "between 10 and 20 acres to be treated in 2010." Moby Dick has submitted a plan to mow the spartina from their property. If the noxious weed is still on their property the plants will be eradicated, likely by spraying, at Moby Dick's expense as per court order.
Willapa oysterman Brian Sheldon said succinctly, "Northern Oyster Company has 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."
He asked, "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 has been extremely cognizant of Moby Dick's, Stravrum's and Cohen's requests and he and his crews have bent over backwards to appease their demands. They used back-pack spraying instead of the more comprehensive machine spray of spartina in the area near their tide land. The result was an apparent 85 percent kill rate instead of much more effective and higher one that could have caused more drift. "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 weed board will also put down a costly to the county ground barrier to keep sunlight off the spartina and eradicate it bordering the Cohen-Moby Dick property, all in an effort to appease their demands.
The discussion became heated at times between Stravrum and several oystermen. Stravrum, who at the previous weed board meeting had threatened to sell to the Aryan Nations and had made similar veiled threats at the last Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce meeting, stated, "I wouldn't want my cost to stay here be too much that I would sell."
Stravrum contended, "I just want the county to quit dumping poison on my land so I can start selling our oysters again. I'm not here to kill every first born." Brian Sheldon countered by saying, "There are no federal or state mandates on eating shellfish that have been treated. Moby Dick's ban on oysters is self-imposed!"
Next steps 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 play by May 6 and we will meet May 11." Stravrum said, "She can be there on May 11."
Cohen was sent a certified letter March 24 about the April 13 meeting, but responded with a letter from her attorney dated April 6. Her attorney stated in the letter to the weed control board that it would be unconstitutional to make a decision about Cohen's property without her being at the meeting.
The meeting appeared to close with all copasetic until 2012, when the county will come in and eradicate any and all spartina that may remain on Moby Dick, Cohen's or any other property in Willapa Bay. That is, until Mullet made his threat of bringing the white supremacist group to Ocean Park. For more information on Mullet's Ohio-based Aryan Nations group, log on to www.aryannations88.com. Content on this Web site may be offensive to some.
The next weed board meeting will be at the Pacific County Building at 7013 Sandridge Road at 7 p.m. May 11. At that time, Cohen will be required to make her statement on the issue of spartina as a "non-cooperative landowner."
Shopping for a home
Mullet, 36, contacted the Blue Mountain Eagle during a visit to John Day in February, saying he wanted to be upfront about his plans and to show people that "we're not as bad as people think we are."
He said he and his Aryan Nations followers are "very law-abiding." In John Day, Mullet stressed that adherents operate under a strict regime and must "obey the laws." "We are very pro-America, but pro-America with the original Constitution," he said.
Mullet also contended the presence of Aryan Nations members would make communities safer. "I think people will be able to leave their doors open, and know that they are safe," he said.
However, as reported in the Eagle, Mullet has a criminal history in Ohio and Minnesota dating back over the past 17 years, including prison time for theft and burglary. Officials in Minnesota said he is still wanted on outstanding warrants for a probation violation.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, "Recent years have not been kind to Aryan Nations, once the country's most well-known neo-Nazi outpost. Bankrupted by a lawsuit from a mother and son who were assaulted by Aryan Nations guards, the group lost its Idaho compound in 2001. Though he continued to serve as Aryan Nations' leader, Richard Butler suffered the effects of age and ill health, and the group splintered into factions in 2002. Butler claimed to be reorganizing Aryan Nations but died in September 2004, leaving the group's future as uncertain as ever."