A bill before the U.S. House would strip away the National Park Service’s power to enforce regulations on the waters of the Yukon Charley Preserve in the Interior. Congressman Don Young says it’s the first volley in a battle over who rules Alaska’s waterways.
Young inserted language into a funding bill now being voted on in the House. He did so in response to what Interior Alaskans call heavy-handed treatment by park rangers.
Young’s anti-Park Service provision wasn’t popular among Democrats, and Representative Norm Dicks of Washington State floated an amendment to get Young’s issue stripped from the bill.
“We have people in the law enforcement area who make mistakes. But we don’t get rid of law enforcement; we don’t say we’re no longer going to protect people, the other people.”
Democrats also complained because Young inserted a local, pet-issues line into a national appropriations bill. But Young fought back, and Wednesday evening Dicks’ amendment was defeated and Young’s language against the Park Service was kept.
“Think about this very carefully. Do you want an agency that does not respect the rights of individuals because they work for the government? Does not respect the rights of history? I don’t think you do. I don’t think you do. So I’m asking that the amendment be defeated, asking for my colleagues to understand this is a big issue in my state. This is very very important. Not only to me but my people. People of state who have been using it for centuries.”
The Republican-dominated house supported Young’s issue, including Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho.
“The problem is you say you’re trying to save Mr. Young from himself by offering this amendment, we’re trying to save the Park Service from itself and the actions that it’s taken.”
Debate on the floor heated up as Congressmen Dicks and Young sparred over who would have jurisdiction on the Alaska waters – the Coast Guard or the state:
How does the Coast Guard have jurisdiction. That’s another federal agency. The gentleman changed his story down in the gym.
WILL YOU YIELD?
And told me that it was the state that had authority.
WOULD YOU YIELD?
I would wonder who in the hell has authority.
YOU’RE FROM WASHINGTON AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHO HAS AUTHORITY?
Again the chair requests that members use the proper yielding to each other for time. The time is controlled by the gentleman from Virginia.
Despite their shouting, Young and Dicks have served together for decades and were periodically laughing as the other spoke.
The fight between the Park Service and Alaskans who live near the Yukon Charley Preserve is no laughing matter though – it hit a fever pitch last fall when a 70-year-old man from Central was charged after a scuffle with Park Rangers who tried to do a boat safety check on the Yukon River. A decision is pending in that case.
The Park Service did try to ease tensions with residents by replacing the two rangers accused of strong-arming locals and eliminating on-water boat inspections. But Young says that’s not enough and the entire structure of who regulates the local waters should be changed.
Votes are continuing Thursday in the House on amendments to the Interior Appropriations bill.