Last year’s Environmental Protection Agency raid on the small gold-mining town of Chicken, Alaska, constituted a clear case of overkill by federal authorities seeking violations of environmental regulations, according to an official review of the controversial incident released Thursday.
The review also concluded that EPA officials have been uncooperative in some cases in releasing information on how the raid was conceived and carried out.
The federal agency caused an uproar in the tiny community and across the state when about 10 armed agents, accompanied by helicopters, raided the mining operations on Aug. 19 in order to investigate whether they were violating the Clean Water Act, or, as Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, described it, “to see if the family-run mining businesses were making the water too muddy.”
But the new report by Alaska special counsel Brent Cole also concluded that federal and state agents did not violate the law when they conducted the surprise criminal raid, even though there was “little factual support of serious ongoing environmental crimes being committed.”
“This criminal investigation unnecessarily placed people in harm’s way,” said Mr. Cole in the 37-page “Report of the Fortymile Mining District Investigation.”
“While the method of conducting this environmental criminal investigation may meet proper legal protocol, the novelty of it in the region introduced a potential for confrontation and harm that was unnecessary,” the report said.
Mr. Parnell, who ordered the investigation after a public outcry over the August raid, asked the House Natural Resources Committee in a letter Thursday to help bring to light more information about the raid at the federal end, saying that the investigation “was hindered by a lack of cooperation from the EPA.”
“The notion of armed federal agents showing up unannounced to ‘investigate’ hard-working Alaska mining families disturbs me,” Mr. Parnell said in a statement. “… Further, I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the special counsel was met with resistance in attempting to access documents and witnesses pertinent to his review.”
Mr. Parnell said the inspection was another example of federal overreach on environmental enforcement in Alaska.
“Since the Obama administration took office, Alaskans and their families have been subjected to an unprecedented level of disrespect by several federal agencies,” he said.
In a statement Thursday, EPA said that it “stands by the actions taken in the investigation of placer mining sites in the 40 mile river area in Alaska.”
“The Special Counsel’s report confirms that the investigations were done professionally and courteously. No firearms were drawn, no search warrants were carried out, no private dwellings were searched, no threats of use of force were made, and there were no hostilities or arrests,” the statement said.
But Mr. Cole’s report disputed the EPA’s previous statements characterizing the investigation as a joint federal-state effort, saying there was little communication with state officials prior to the raid.
“We found that state employees had little involvement in the origination, organization, or execution of the [investigation],” said Mr. Cole. Some Bureau of Land Management officials who helped organize the action “clearly disagreed with the criminal nature of the investigation,” even advising Alaska Wildlife Troopers not to loan the criminal task force a four-wheeler for the raid, said the report.
“When asked about the BLM’s involvement in the [investigation], one BLM official stated, ‘We waffled back and forth, honestly about how involved we wanted to be. It was a gut-wrenching exercise, and wasn’t taken lightly,’” said the report.
The report said that previous Clean Water Act inspections were typically conducted by one or two compliance inspectors, who always gave notice before their arrival, but that federal authorities said the more heavy-handed investigation was necessary because there might be “serious” violations.
“As stated earlier, there was little evidence to support the existence of ‘serious’ violations necessitating the arrest of anyone,” said the report. “No one was arrested for committing ‘serious’ violations.”