It’s been several weeks now since the occurrence of the federal-state enforcement action in the Fortymile Mining District, and answers are still being sought from top state leaders incredulous at the tactics used by government agents.
And answers are needed.
To refresh, members of a federal-state task force — mostly federal, as it turns out — rolled into the Fortymile region in August on four-wheelers and with weapons and bulletproof vests to look for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The enforcement action was led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and included personnel from the federal Bureau of Land Management. But the team also included an investigator from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. An EPA official said later that the action had been planned for months.
It caused an uproar among the close-knit mining community and brought concern from a number of Alaskans.
Gov. Sean Parnell and representatives of state and federal agencies went to Chicken on Sept. 14 to hear first-hand, in a meeting that lasted about two hours, just what happened. “Anywhere from four to seven agents in body armor and with high-powered weapons swooping in on ATVs,” Gov. Parnell recounted from that meeting. “They don’t stop to introduce themselves, they just blow by a miner and his wife and head straight for the water and start taking samples.”
The governor has ordered an investigation, which will be conducted by an outside attorney. He hopes for quick answers and some recommendations for the future.
Separately, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Friday released a copy of a letter she sent Thursday to the deputy director of the BLM expressing concern and requesting a meeting and answers to several questions, including wanting to know about the justification offered by the agencies that “illegal narcotics and human trafficking” were present in the area and therefore warranted the aggressive armed approach.
Events like the one in the Fortymile can easily turn sour fast.
Laws do need to be enforced, including those under the Clean Water Act, but agencies need to find the right and safe way to do it. An inquiry into the actions of the federal agencies and into the involvement of the one state employee will provide a bit of sunshine on what so far seems like a dark incident.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Mine, Sept. 28