Up to eight armed EPA officers, armed and wearing body armor, swoop down in raids in Chicken, Alaska. 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.
Miners 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. Most of the mines in the area are small, family-run placer operations. They are like the mines seen on on the Reality TV show “Gold Rush: Alaska.” They search for gold by digging up ground and running it through a sluice box, using water to wash away the rocks and leave the valuable gold behind.
The water they use must be allowed to settle in ponds before it’s discharged back into streams or creeks, so that mud and rocks don’t pollute clean, nearby waterways. Water turned turbid (cloudy or muddy) can kill fish.
In 2010, 227 placer gold mines in Alaska produced 69,318 ounces of gold. Just over half of Alaska’s active placer mines are located in the Eastern Interior region. In 2010, the two largest placer mines accounted for 42 percent of all placer production.
The EPA’s raids in Chicken have been seen as heavy-handed by many in the community.
Mining is of growing importance to the Alaskan economy. Total direct and indirect jobs attributed to the mining industry in 2012 was 9,500 with a payroll of $650 million. The mining industry provides some of Alaska’s highest paying jobs with an average annual wage of $100,000, significantly higher than the state average for all sectors of the economy.
The TV series “Yukon Gold” premiers in the US tonight on the National Geographic channel. The series was filmed in Yukon and concerns a placer mining operation.