May 2, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 17

BLM weighs penalty for heli-ski tour

A representative for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said the agency’s law enforcement sector is investigating whether to take punitive action against a local heli-ski company that operated on BLM land without a permit.

Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) was operating on BLM land during a March 3 heli-ski accident that killed one person and injured two others. BLM has not permitted heli-ski operators use of its land near Haines for several years.

Erin Curtis, chief of the BLM’s office of communications, said law enforcement officials will meet with SEABA representatives late next week as part of their investigation. Whether the agency will level some sort of punishment for SEABA’s infraction is based on a variety of criteria, Curtis said.

“We look at whether the violation was knowing and willful, what the degree of the violation was, and the damage to public lands,” Curtis said.

According to BLM regulations, the maximum penalty for an individual operating on BLM land without a permit is a $100,000 fine and one year in jail, Curtis said. The fine doubles for an organization, although how jail time works for an organization is unclear, Curtis said.

Curtis underscored that that the maximum penalty is only levied if severity, intent and damage levels are all very high.

BLM has been waiting on release of the trooper’s accident report to move forward with the matter, Curtis said.

The trooper report was signed off on and released recently.