Sean Doogan alaskadispatch.com When agents with the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force surged out of the wilderness around the remote community of Chicken wearing body armor and jackets emblazoned with POLICE in big, bold letters, local placer miners didn’t quite know what to think. Did it really take eight armed men and a squad-size display of paramilitary force to check for dirty water? Some of the miners, who run small businesses, say they felt intimidated. Others wonder if the actions of the agents put everyone at risk. When your family business involves collecting gold far from nowhere, unusual behavior can be taken as a sign someone might be trying to stage a robbery. How is a remote placer miner to know the people in the jackets saying POLICE really are police? Miners suggest it might have been better all around if officials had just shown up at the door -- as they used to do -- and said they wanted to check the water.
Lots of Federal land in AlaskaAlaska’s vast Interior, which sprawls to the Canadian border, has been the site of federal-local distrust in the past. It was near this area, 130 miles northwest of Chicken, that National Park Service rangers pointed shotguns at, then tackled and arrested a septuagenarian, for not stopping his boat in midstream of the Yukon River in the fall of 2010. Jim Wilde, 70 years old at the time, had been ordered to prepare to be boarded for a safety inspection. Wilde didn’t much like that demand. He swore at park rangers and then headed for shore and a meeting on terra firma. Wilde was arrested and taken to the jail in Fairbanks, more than 100 miles away. He was later tried and found guilty by a federal magistrate for failing to comply with a lawful order from federal agents. The state of Alaska, as a whole, can be a place of deeply-rooted mistrust between locals and the agents who try to enforce federal rules. Alaska has more federally owned and managed land than any other U.S. state. More than 65 percent of its land is under some sort of federal control. A multitude of federal parks, preserves and wilderness areas are patrolled by agents from more than a dozen U.S. agencies. Many of the people in rural parts of the state, which are either under federal control or border federally-managed areas, have more contact with federal officers than they do with representatives from the state.
Surprised by armed group of officersMiners from the Chicken area -- a gold mining town of just 17 full-time residents and dozens of seasonal miners off the Taylor Highway, between Tok and the Canadian border -- said that during the third week of August they were surprised by groups of four to eight armed officers, who swarmed onto their mining claims with little or no warning. The officers were armed and wearing body armor. They were part of the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force and were there to check for violations of section 404 of the Clean Water Act, according to several miners who were contacted by the group. Section 404 governs water discharges into rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. The task force’s methods are now being questioned by the miners as well as the Alaska congressional delegation. “Imagine coming up to your diggings, only to see agents swarming over it like ants, wearing full body armor, with jackets that say POLICE emblazoned on them, and all packing side arms,” to read more click here: alaskadispatch.com
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