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.
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,” said C.R. “Dick” Hammond, a Chicken gold miner who got a visit from the task force.
“How would you have felt?” Hammond asked. “You would be wondering, ‘My God, what have I done now?’”
What you’ve done, buddy, is fall under suspicion of violating section 404 of the Clean Water Act (not to mention suspicions of “rampant drug and human trafficking“) somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the Alaska-Yukon border, and you just got a friendly little visit from the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force, associated with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, acting on behalf of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Government and its small army of unfireable bureaucrats.
The operation occurred about two weeks ago at claims in the area around Chicken. Sheldon Maier, president of the Fortymile Mining Association, said armed Environmental Protection Agency officials visited numerous placer mining sites while investigating Clean Water Act violations.
Maier said the appearance of the officials — arriving suddenly in armed groups while wearing bulletproof vests — was startling. Miners said the visits felt like a bullying tactic.
“The miners I’ve visited with said it was very intimidating and uncomfortable,” Maier said.
The account differed from that offered by an EPA spokesman, who stated in an email that the discussions officials had with miners in the area were “consensual and cordial.”
The EPA statement said the operation was conducted by the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force, which is comprised of 10 state and federal agencies. The enforcement wings of the EPA, Bureau of Land Management and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation participated in the effort, the statement said.
The notion that the Chickens were dealing dope and hookers “sounds wholly concocted to me,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.
Murkowski said she agrees with the need to enforce the Clean Water Act, but said the investigation feels like another example of confrontational federal behavior toward rural Alaskans. She intends to schedule a follow-up meeting with EPA officials to discuss the operation.
“I haven’t heard anything that would lead me to believe this was appropriate,” she said.
Hey, when you’re a federal officer, you can’t be careful, or too nosy. Maybe we should send the EPA’s SWAT teams to Syria and kill two chickens with one stone.