The City Council of Skagway, Alaska, has carved another niche in history for the little Gold Rush community.
Fed up with the rules and the paperwork, the council this month shut down Skagway's spanking new sewage treatment plant and told Uncle Sam to buzz off.
What is historic about that is that Skagway apparently is the first town in the country simply to shut down its treatment plant and dare the government to do something about it.
What is timely about it is that Skagway is claiming, among other things, that the energy crisis has forced it to thumb its nose at the 1972 Clean Water Act.
Last week, Mayer Robert Messegee fired off an impassioned letter to President Carter, invoking the nergy crisis and pleading with him to gen the Environmental Protection Agency off Skagway's back.
"Please help me, Mr President," he wrote. "I am not a criminal. I am an elected official, earning $80 a month. I don't want to go to jail."
EPA, which sees no humor in the Alaskan's action, filed suit in federal court in Anchorage Friday seeking an order to get the plant back into operation.
EPA's complaint also seeks a $10,000-a-day fine against five Skagway council members for each day the plant is out of operation.
And don't think that has not set off snickering in the town of 870 residents in southern Alaska. City Attorney William Ruddy said, "The federal government will end up owning Skagway."
Council Oscar Selmer said he would sooner go to jail for contempt. "All they have to do is to come up here and get me," said Selmer. "I'll get free room and board, as long as they bring me a little shot of wkiskey once in a while."
Not a chance in the world that will happen, said EPA attorney John Hohn at the agency's regional headquarters in Seattle.
"We spent a lot of time and money trying to help them," said Hohn. "The law is pretty plain -- they have to have a permit to discharge waste into U.S. waters and it has to meet the EPA standards."
City Manager Gil Acker said the $3.5 million treatment plant, completed in November, has had technical problems which cause it to use more electric power than anticipated.
By Mayor Messegee's calculations, about 46,000 gallons of high-priced diesel fuel are required to generate enough elelctricity to keep the plant motors running.
City officials say the cost of electricity will just flat out bankrupt Skagway. The mayor told Carter he thought that was a mighty strange way to fight an energy crisis.
Skayway's basic argument, however, is that its sewage -- although no more pristine than that of, say, a Washington -- is not as bad as one would think.
There is no industry in Skagway and the effluent washes into the 600-foot deep Lynn Canal, a turbulent body of seawater that City Attorney Ruddy said may be enhanced by the run-off.
"We're not looking for a fight," Ruddy said. "But we don't understand why EPA is drawing the battle line in Skagway when Anchorage or Seattle don't have the treatment facilities we have here."