THIS IS A SPENARD STORY. THAT MEANS A BLUE TARP IS INVOLVED.
And just like that, it was gone. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, the U.S. Marshal owns the Spenard Palm Tree.
The six-month saga that started when the Marshal told Denali Disposal it could keep a broken-down neon palm tree ended with the fixture hauled off by the feds to another undisclosed site.
Bernadette Wilson, owner and manager of Denali Disposal, had a contract to clean up the old Paradise Inn last year. The motel had been seized by the federal government due to illegal drug activity and the trash needed to be taken out so the property could go up for auction. Trash, the marshal said, included that goofy sign.
Wilson told the marshal in charge that the sign seemed like something more than garbage. It was a bit of a landmark for Anchorage. Could she keep it?
The marshal told her to keep it — the government had no sentimental attachment to the sign. So she brought in a flatbed truck and carefully hauled it away, not at night, but in broad daylight and with the full support of the federal marshal. It would find a home somewhere, she thought, perhaps back in Spenard, where it had lived for 50 years. Somewhere near the Koot’s windmill, perhaps.
“It was Monday morning, November 6, 2017. For nearly an hour, we walked through the Paradise Inn, escorted and directed by a U.S Marshal who told us what we were to dispose of. Roughly 50 pictures taken within the same 1 hour window would serve as reference for what we were to haul away – washers, driers, refrigerators, TV’s, glassware, dressers – and a neon palm tree,” she wrote.
“As we wrapped up our tour through the cold and dark Paradise Inn, we made our way outside. There, at the base of the palm tree, we were told to get rid of it. As we snapped pictures, I commented that I thought it was ‘kind of cool’ and asked of the US Marshal ‘ Do you care if we keep it?’”
“NO, he replied– we don’t care if you keep it. Unequivocally, positively he responded – we don’t care, just get it down. People were attempting to cut through the fence, it was a ‘liability’ we were told. Why would you want to keep it? The neon doesn’t work, it’s busted up and junk I was told. We talked and snapped pictures.”
But later, as Wilson found out, the federal government can change its mind. A U.S Attorney called her and demanded the tree be returned. If it was worth something to her, he said, then it wasn’t trash and it should be returned so the Feds could auction it.
IT’S ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’
Wilson disagreed with the U.S. Attorney, and he didn’t take kindly to her not giving him the tree. Her righteous indignation at being told one thing by one agency, only to be found “in the wrong” by another seemed to scratch some itch in him that only ramped up the attorney’s resolve to seize the tree. The two sides went to court. A judge ordered her to return the tree to the feds.
At 11:30 am on Friday, April 20, Vulcan Towing pulled up to the vacant lot where the tree was being stored under a blue tarp. After all, this is a story about a Spenard piece of yard art.
Two members of the U.S. Marshal’s office showed up, and the custody transfer began. A reporter from KTVA documented it. An hour later, the tree was rolling down the streets of Anchorage. Only a few broken bits of neon light were left behind.
“The judge gave the order and, just like all along, I’ve followed all the orders of the government,” said Wilson, who hasn’t figured out if she’ll appeal the judge’s ruling.
She says she’s out at least $30,000 for having preserved the palm tree from being trashed during the cleanup of the disreputable motel. If she had just hauled it off to the transfer station … Nah. That’s not Bernadette.
What now? The feds plan to auction it off along with the motel, but these things happen on government time, which can take a while.
“I hope it sells for $50,000 because that is how much it will have cost them in the end,” she said.
Wilson also maintains that she was bullied and harassed by a member of the U.S. District Attorney’s office. She wrote about her experience and even set the saga to music.
[Read: Bernadette vs. the Feds: The Musical]
On Friday, Wilson told Must Read Alaska that the entire situation had become surreal to her. Now that she doesn’t have the tree in her possession, she also has no leverage and no apparent path to making the federal government pay her for her expenses.
The U.S. Attorney won the Palm Tree. The Feds own a rusted tree it once thought was worthless and it may get $5,000 for it at auction. Or maybe someone will be $10,000.
Meanwhile, Wilson is trying to figure out which Kafkaesque part of the federal swamp is in charge of making her whole for the $30,000 she’s put into preservation — $30,000 that could buy her a few vacations in Hawaii under a real palm tree.