ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska man is resurrecting a strip club he operated on board his converted crab boat before he was convicted on waste disposal charges involving the vessel.
This time, he's billing the enterprise as a nightly protest.
Darren Byler says he will begin his summer-long "First Amendment Freedom of Assembly" demonstrations Thursday on the 94-foot Wild Alaskan.
He says the demonstrations will feature exotic dancers on board the boat, anchored off a harbor near the island city of Kodiak.
Byler has long alleged he was hit with the federal "poop" charges because authorities and others disapproved of the exotic-dancer business he ran in 2014. He is appealing his federal case.
"I'm protesting the fact that I was singled out and targeted for morality," he said. "I don't like being bullied by the government, and I'm doing this because I can. This is my way of winning."
Byler said the Wild Alaskan is no longer being run as a charter and he won't be serving alcohol or charging admission to the vessel, although participants will need to pay $25 for a round-trip, two-minute water-taxi ride.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the planned protests.
Byler was sentenced in January to five years of probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for a misdemeanor violation of dumping sewage in violation of the federal Refuse Act and for a felony charge of lying to federal authorities. He was convicted in 2015.
His wife, Kimberly Riedel-Byler, was found not guilty of the same charges.
Federal prosecutors have said Byler piped sewage from the Wild Alaskan bathrooms into the harbor near Kodiak in 2014. The Bylers were accused of telling the Coast Guard they were properly disposing of the waste — a contention Byler still maintains.
Supporters say the charges involve disposal practices that have long been routine among local boat owners who were never prosecuted.
The Wild Alaskan is now registered with the state as a pleasure boat, but operators of such vessels are still required to meet Coast Guard safety standards such as providing floatation devices for each passenger, according to Coleen Greenshields, a state administrative officer.
Byler said the Wild Alaskan can comfortably seat 50 to 60 people, and he plans to have enough life jackets on board.
He said the boat never had sewage problems, and in a May 5 letter to the Coast Guard announcing the planned protest, he wrote, "Please feel free to send your undercover sewer cops out to the vessel and put a dye pack in the vessel heads."
Coast Guard officials did not elaborate on how they will respond to the protests planned six nights a week until Sept 30. Officials said, however, that vessel owners are responsible for the safety of passengers, including following the correct load calculations and having basic lifesaving and other equipment on board.
"The Coast Guard will be monitoring the situation with the Wild Alaskan, like we do all maritime activities to the best of our ability, to ensure that Mr. Byler's guests are safe and the vessel safely operated," Capt. Paul Albertson said in an email to The Associated Press.
Police in Kodiak declined to comment, citing a directive from City Manager Mike Tvenge. He said the city has no immediate plans to monitor the boat.
"What happens down the road in the future is unknown," Tvenge said. "We'll see what develops in time, but we're not going to get into hypotheticals."
Rob Dierich, a commercial fisherman and longtime Kodiak resident, checked out the Wild Alaskan as a new attraction when he was single a few years ago. He believes Byler was targeted because of moral disapproval.
Still, he doesn't believe Byler needs to be "egging everybody that was on him the first time." As for the protests, Dierich doesn't think he'll be participating.
"I'm in different relationships," he said. "So I'm kind of staying out of places like that."
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