Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Bradford retires after 30 some years


May 30, 2019

Jenna Kunze

Scott Bradford stands above a fragrant 250,000 gallons of community sewage the plant takes in and treats daily.

Candi Bradford is uniquely familiar with the water and sewer plant in Haines since her first date with her now-husband, Scott Bradford, 27 years ago. On a summer evening, Scott won her over with dinner, then a tour of the sewage plant where he'll retire from on June 3.

"I knew I needed to marry him after that," Candi said. "Only a real man can work in that nasty place."

Bradford, 55, is the supervisor at Haines' water and sewer plants, an operation that treats 320,000 gallons of water a day, primarily pumped from Lily Lake, treated in a series of four different tanks at the pump station down the hill, and sent out through underground pipes to some 1,800 people in the borough.

"We do so many different things," Bradford said of his job for the past 31 years. Between a federal regulation book that has quadrupled in size the past few decades, early morning site visits to each pump station, and middle-of-the-night phone calls when a valve breaks or sewage backs up, Bradford said his job keeps him moving.

One aspect that can't be ignored is what Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" portrayed as one of the least sanitary, most undesirable jobs in the world: working with sewage.

Dennis Durr, Bradford's subordinate who will replace him next month, said that he's seen his boss covered in slime "more times than he could count," and has always been impressed by his willingness to jump right in-literally.

While Durr and the department's part-time employee, 20-year-old Gavin McGuire, often resort to rock-paper-scissors to decide who descends into a manhole, water tank, or other confined, dirty space, "Scott is the first guy in the hole."

"It takes a special kind of person," Durr said. "Your ick-factor has to be really high."

Among the most interesting things Bradford has salvaged from the sewer: jewelry, dentures, living goldfish, dead goldfish, and $371 in a single day.

"Yeah, some of it's pretty gross," Bradford said, "I've had it all over me, but for the most part, it never really bothered me too much."

Former water and sewer supervisor John Shaw, who retired in 2002, said the job got more difficult as time passed because of all the state and federal regulations. "It became less about keeping things operating and more about dealing with all the paperwork," he said.

Bradford's office desk is drowned in stacks of papers that answer to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's bi-monthly sampling. Water and sewer staff also submit quarterly and "a whole gambit of yearly" tests to DEC for monitoring of myriad acids and chemicals. On the sewer side, there's monthly reporting that goes to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"When things go right, people don't think about it, but when things go wrong, people blame you," Bradford said.

Bradford's boss, public facilities director Brad Ryan, said that Bradford's long history with the borough and the community make him good at dealing with customers in stressful situations.

Bradford moved to Alaska from Cincinnati, Ohio, as an 8-year-old when his step father got a job as assistant fire chief at the air force base near North Pole. After his high school graduation in 1985, he moved to Haines and worked as a part-time dog catcher and water and sewer plant worker.

He learned the skills on the job, and stuck with it. By the time Shaw retired in 2002, Bradford was an expert. "He must have learned pretty well, because I didn't get any calls after I left," Shaw said. "That was a good indication that he knew what he was doing."

Proof of Bradford's success hangs in the office kitchen turned lab, where yellow-tinged beakers lay scattered across the counters. In 1998, Bradford was awarded "large-system operator of the year," from the American Waterworks Association, recognizing him as the best operator in the state. In 2016, he won "small wastewater system operator of the year."

Still, mistakes happen. The worst of Bradford's career happened in 2015, when a sample he selected contained E.coli. Bradford spent the day hand delivering boil water notices to each customer. "Most restaurants had to close because they couldn't wash dishes, they couldn't rinse off vegetables," he said. "Residents weren't happy because they were advised not to take a shower. It was an inconvenience for a lot of people."

Colleagues and family say Bradford's best quality is his cool demeanor in high-pressure situations.

"When I first got hired, I thought he was going to be a real hardass, he's got that look," McGuire said. He said his boss turned out to be not only fair, knowledgeable and patient, but also "calm and collected."

The behavior likely comes from 33 years of experience at the Haines Borough Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief from 1986 to 2004.

"He was exemplary," fire chief Al Giddings said, who served under Bradford when he first joined the department 10 years ago. "He's able to gather the big perspective but not miss any details."

Giddings said of Bradford that "if there's a fire call, quite often he'll be the first on the scene."

In his so-called retirement, Bradford plans to help his wife full-time at their downtown shop, Miles Furniture.

"We are so used to him being called out during family dinners or baseball games or swim meets," Candi said. "It will be really nice to have him to ourselves for the first time ever."Candi said while she won't miss her husband's ringing cellphone during time off, she knows he has a different opinion.

"I will miss the after-hour calls, the sewer alarms, the water alarms, the leaks, the complaints about chlorine in the water, the sewer smells, etc." Bradford wrote in his resignation letter last month.

Ryan said these lines fully capture the depth of Bradford's dedication. "He truly did feel like he was serving the community, and that gave him a sense of purpose," Ryan said.

Bradford's tenure includes three decades of data collection which was used to build an online mapping system that identifies where each water main, valve, and manhole is located.

"Scott really wanted to make sure he left us with all the tools we need," Durr said, though most colleagues and friends agree that Bradford won't be gone for good. "I'll probably stop by once a week just to see what's going on," Bradford said.


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