Here are two email that I received this earlier this week. I repeat almost as received, editing out only a few names and dates that are not germane to the story.
I would like to let you know that we “tentatively” have three days
available to us to do mining compliance via military helicopter (probably a Blackhawk). We have this scheduled for Aug 21-23, 2013. We have picked 3 routes where we could cover many operations that we could not reach any other way. Your mining operation is on one of the routes.
We know there is this issue of image. We agreed that we should work with operators with whom we had a working relationship and notify people ahead of time. Some of you have worked closely with us, others, because of your
remoteness and our lack of staff to keep up with all mining permits, have not. Let me tell you how this came about:
Leslie Tose (District Office) and I are the only ones left standing as the mining team here at the Corps and we are working hard to develop a new general permit that will meet our regulations and not be more costly to the miners. We are trying to do more outreach and more site visits. Also, we would like to get an aerial view of the layout of your operation, any reclamation that has been done, and a better perspective of what type of environment you are working in, such as: are there waters of the U.S, including wetlands, or is your operation only in uplands. This has been one of the most hallenging parts of our job (thus our request for aerial photos in your APMA packet).
We also have a challenging time getting out in the field to see mine sites and talk to miners, because we don’t have ATVs and our flight travel is restricted due to army regulations. We have a new colonel this year – Lestochi – and during his visit to the Fairbanks Field Office, I jokingly asked if we could use army helicopters to get out to mine sites. Colonel Lestochi stated that the pilots have to do training missions and agreed to let us look into it, so I bulldogged a months long process to file the paperwork to get it to happen.
We honestly didn’t know if it would work out, but we tried to think “outside the box”, which is hard for the army to do! We appreciate you being open to this, and hopefully it will work out to everyone’s advantage. We will be flying over most perations but stopping at a few if the pilots allow us. This is a generic email to all operations as time is critical to get the word out. This happened rather fast after I finally got the paperwork to the military! So please let your crew know and don’t be alarmed if you see us overhead or land. We would love to have time to meet with everyone, but that will not be
possible. If we land, please come meet us!
If you have any questions, concerns, or just want to introduce yourself, please don’t hesitate to call or email me. I will be in the field next week, so please call the phone number below.
Fairbanks Field Office
Corps of Engineers – Regulatory
460-2802 (cell phone, please leave message)
Understandably the mining industry in Alaska was not impressed. Here is what they sent out to their members in response:
Attached is an email I received from Leslie Tose with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the flights over mining operations happening this week, ending today. From what I understand, she distributed this to all Interior mining operations, and I incorporated this into last Friday’s Executive Director report, so I am hopeful you have seen this notice by now.
This week, I heard concerns from members about the tactic of the Corps using blackhawk helicopters to do site visits and flights over operations. I have been provided with information about past federal helicopter activity that was no question beyond inappropriate, but it is my impression that is not what happened here.
In the past year, when the Corps instituted the requirement for aerial photography of mining operations, we raised concern that having that done would be far too expensive for miners. We have also asked for their permits to be more simple and efficient, and to understand the uniqueness of Alaskan mining operations. I feel the Corps asked to ride along on military exercises to offer alternative means for aerial photos and gather information for a new, better General Permit, two things we stand to benefit from. Ultimately, I think we want them to do their work, which we know is on a limited budget, without passing those costs on to the mining industry.
If we make these flights an issue, we must be prepared to incur the costs of aerial photography and other mining regulation the Corps undertakes. Otherwise, we should be agreeable to saving the public money, provided this is done responsibly by the Corps. If I learn that these flights are used to make actions we find to be inappropriate, I will be the first to act in opposition. But in the meantime, I believe we should let wait to see what the Corps does with information gathered on the flights.
I have requested a meeting with Leslie Tose in mid September to update me on the flights, the routes they took, the information they gathered, and any other applicable details. I will keep you all apprised as to what I find out.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
At this rate every regulatory agency will have a drone over each mine and will be calling in issues on a 24/7 basis.