Woodland whistleblower claims retaliation by city

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WOODLAND, Wash. (KOIN 6) — A man said he is now the target of retaliation, after he reported illegal dumping along with health and safety violations centered around a water treatment plant in Woodland.

“I felt like it was something I had to do,” Derrek Amburgey told KOIN 6 News. “I just started noticing things that were not right.”

While working at Woodland Wastewater Treatment Plant, Amburgey said he witnessed the release of contaminated water into the Lewis River, the illegal dumping of raw sewage onto city property, and falsifying of test records by his supervisor.

“It goes from being surprised and shocked to, what is going on here and what do I do?” Amburgey said.

Amburgey provided KOIN 6 News with numerous photos showing what he said was his supervisor contaminating testing areas by butchering meat and storing it in a lab refrigerator, right next to samples. Other pictures reportedly show evidence of the supervisor grooming his dog at the city plant.

He said he also was able to get images of his supervisor doing personal laundry at the plant, cutting firewood for use at his home, and bringing alcohol to work.Click here to see photos of the alleged violations

Amburgey said he first reported what he saw to the state.

“I didn’t really have a choice, this is my job,” Amburgey said. “This is my license too on the line, this isn’t just the plant. It was my duty to come forward, I had no other choice.”

The state investigated, and documents released showed that they concluded the lab results were falsified.

Amburgey said his supervisor brought alcohol to work. (Courtesy Gregory D. Ferguson, PC)

Amburgey said he also showed the pictures to Woodland Mayor Grover Laseke. But within a week of reporting his concerns, he said he started getting disciplinary write-ups. He said his year-end performance evaluation went from outstanding to unsatisfactory.

“It’s easy to do the right thing,” Amburgey said. “What they’re doing is the total opposite so I didn’t see the retaliation coming, I thought they would handle the problem.”

Now, Amburgey has filed a claim against the city asking for $1 million in damages. The city told KOIN 6 News they are conducting an internal investigation, and have hired an outside company to perform a 4-month audit on the water treatment plant.

But this is not the first complaint of retaliation against the city — there was one involving the police department last year, and the same lawyer is handling that case.

City Councilmember Scott Perry said he was surprised. He thinks employees should be encouraged to make constructive recommendations and speak up if they have concerns about possible violations.

“No Councilmember would condone any superior taking actions against an employee for voicing concerns over an issue as serious as causing us to lose our certifications,” Perry said. “I was especially surprised as our Public Works Director was recommended as having an engineering degree in Water Treatment design and plant operations, and he is the department head over the on-site supervisor.”

Woodland city officials said they received the complaints in the case and passed them on to the city attorney and their insurance carrier.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story and provide updates as they become available.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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