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Heli-ski operator: Land encroachments 'minor'

Posted: January 9, 2014 - 8:41pm

JUNEAU — A Haines helicopter ski operation that has agreed to plead guilty to unauthorized use of federal land says the encroachments were “minor, infrequent and unintentional.”

Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, or SEABA, released a statement through its attorney on Wednesday.

Last week, a bill of information accusing the company of unauthorized use of federal land and a separate plea agreement were filed in federal court. Court documents referred to the company as Southeast Backcountry Adventures. The plea agreement has yet to be accepted by a judge. A court date is pending.

The company statement said the intent of the plea agreement is to ensure payment of fees that would have been paid to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for recreational access by SEABA onto BLM property. According to the bill of information, had the land been open to commercial activity, SEABA user fees would be a minimum of about $11,500.

Prosecutors said the company operated in an area it knew was closed for about 54 of 78 total days of operation in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Similar language is included in the plea agreement.

The company said “a similar number of client ski day land boundary infractions occurred over a couple of year period so that transit onto Federal land was infrequent.”

“The boundary intrusion most often was only for helicopter access with the actual ski runs occurring on state land,” the statement says. “SEABA has worked closely with the BLM over the last several months to specifically identify property/boundary lines and flight paths.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward told the Anchorage Daily News the case came to light after the death of a skier last March. According to the plea agreement, a group of skiers that day fell because a cornice under them gave way. One of them died.

The company said it would “respectfully remind all interested parties that the 2013 fatality involving a SEABA friend and colleague is unrelated to the present issue of reimbursing the Federal Government for lost permit fees. While it is true that an incident occurred bringing to light the boundary crossing issue, the fact is that helicopter skiing is an activity with numerous inherent risks including that of mass movement events (snow pack failures). This risk is present no matter which side of a boundary line is being accessed.”

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