Parnell orders investigation of mining raids
Gov. Sean Parnell said Thursday he has ordered an investigation of recent raids by federal and state officials at mines in the Fortymile River area, saying he will not tolerate a state agency's participation in the sort of conduct displayed.
Enforcement officers with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management were armed and wore body armor, according to Parnell.
He said an investigator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation joined the agents, who said they were looking for violations of the Clean Water Act. Parnell said no one was arrested and no one was cited.
"This level of intrusion and intimidation of Alaskans is absolutely unacceptable," he said in a statement Thursday.
Miners in the area are calling the presence of armed agents an intimidating and unnecessary intrusion, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/AX1YaM) reported.
Parnell also is calling on EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to review how Clean Water Act investigations are handled by her agency.
Doug Parker, director of the EPA's criminal investigation division, said Parnell's request is under evaluation and there was no response to it yet. Parker said, however, that the agency has an entirely different perspective about the matter.
Parker also disputed Parnell's contention that the involvement by some state agencies came after a last-minute notification. Parker said the agencies have been engaged in the planning for months. He also said meetings with the miners were cordial and there are ongoing safety concerns.
"I am very comfortable with the approach that the joint state-federal team took," he told The Associated Press Thursday. "We disagree with the characterization."
The field investigations at numerous placer mining sites occurred in mid-August on federal and state lands.
Sheldon Maier, president of the Fortymile Mining Association, said miners told him the visits felt like a bullying tactic, according to Maier.
"The miners I've visited with said it was very intimidating and uncomfortable," he said.
According to the EPA, agencies involved "took on this investigation based on sites with the regulatory history of noncompliance with the state and federal clean water laws and ongoing significant discharges — possibly felony violations of state and federal clean water laws."
The EPA said violations were found during the inspection of 30 mining sites and investigations continue.
Alaska's congressional delegation met with EPA officials last week to discuss complaints about the investigation.
A representative of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources said officials at the agency were made aware of the operation after it concluded. The role played by Alaska State Troopers was limited to loaning out a four-wheeler and no personnel were involved at the site, according to troopers' spokeswoman Megan Peters.
DEC spokesman Ty Keltner said his agency had a field officer present to look for state violations but the operation was led by federal officials.