WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday wrote to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze to express concerns about the overly aggressive law enforcement raids against a handful of small placer mining operations on Alaska’s Fortymile River.
“This controversial incident has drawn an understandable amount of scrutiny in Alaska and nationwide, but to date, most of the focus has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s participation,” Murkowski wrote. “However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the BLM had a significant role in both the planning and execution of this operation.”
In August, the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force – including EPA, BLM, and FBI agents – conducted a series of inspections of family-owned placer mining operations within the Fortymile Mining District for suspected violations of the Clean Water Act. These mines operate in an area around the Fortymile National Wild and Scenic River, which is overseen by BLM. The inspection team included eight agents carrying side arms and wearing body armor. The miners who were contacted by the team said they felt intimidated by the action of the agents.
“I think we can all agree that ensuring that Alaska’s mining operations are in compliance with all state and federal laws is a worthy endeavor and goal, but I continue to question the need for such a heavy-handed and heavy-armor approach,” Murkowski wrote.
Murkowski has requested a meeting with Kornze to discuss BLM’s role in this exercise, as well as posed four questions on the background, justification, and BLM’s decision-making process regarding the enforcement action. Murkowski noted that she has long strived to improve relations between the citizens of Alaska and federal agencies, and looks forward to discussing how such situations can be avoided in the future.
To date, there have been no citations issued or arrests made related to the raids.
The full letter can be found here.