Southeast Heli-Ski Company Enters Guilty Plea
Anchorage, Alaska - U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that a commercially guided helicopter-skiing operation SOUTHEAST BACKCOUNTRY ADVENTURES (“SEABA”) located in Haines, Alaska, pled guilty in federal court in Anchorage to one count of trespassing on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The guilty plea was entered by part-owner Beb Anderson.
SEABA, a Haines, Alaska heli-ski operation pled guilty in Anchorage in U.S. District Court in front of Judge Timothy Burgess today to one count of Trespassing on BLM-managed land for operating heli-skiing in a closed area without a permit. According to pleadings filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward with the Court:
From 2002 to 2006, SEABA had an Special Recreation Permit (“SRP”) for a helicopter-skiing operation on certain BLM managed lands south of the Tsirku River and bordering Glacier Bay National Park near Haines, Alaska. In 2006, SEABA allowed this SRP to expire. Following the expiration of SEABA’s permit, BLM closed these lands to new heli-ski permitting pending an environmental study to determine the impacts of increasing the amount of permitted heli-ski operations. SEABA applied for a new permit for these closed areas in 2011. SEABA was informed of the closure and did not obtain a permit.
On March 3, 2013, a fatality occurred on BLM-managed land during a commercial heli-ski operation conducted by SEABA. A SEABA guide directed the helicopter pilot to land on BLM-managed land to ski a run on BLM-managed land. This land was within the closed area and SEABA did not have a permit to operate there. This ski run had also been utilized numerous times in 2012 by SEABA without a permit. In fact, SEABA had named the run for one of SEABA’s frequent customers. SEABA had included a map with this run in its application for the 2011 permit that was not approved.
On the day of the fatality, March 3, 2013, the SEABA helicopter landed on the ridge top where the ski run starts on BLM-managed land. After the SEABA group exited the helicopter a cornice gave way under the weight of the group. One of the members of the group was killed in the fall that resulted from the cornice collapse. SEABA was not permitted for use on this ski run on BLM-managed land, and SEABA knew it was a violation of law to operate on this location without a permit.
Following this fatality, BLM initiated an investigation that involved interviews of SEABA employees, a review of SEABA’s flight following logs, maps, and GPS flight data collected by SEABA in accordance with its Haines Borough permit. This investigation revealed that despite knowing that SEABA was not permitted for helicopter-skiing on BLM-managed lands in this area, SEABA illegally operated commercially on BLM-managed lands on approximately 54 days in 2012 and 2013 out of 78 total days of heli-ski operations in these two seasons. Based on a percentage of SEABA’s gross revenue and the percentage of time SEABA operated commercially on BLM-managed lands in 2012 and 2013, SEABA would have owed a minimum of $11,556 in user fees to BLM that would have been charged if the area had been open to use.
The parties have agreed to recommend to the court that SEABA be sentenced to pay restitution in the amount of $11,556; pay a $10,000 fine; and serve a two-year term of probation during which time they have to make available the GPS data for the company operations to BLM. Sentencing has been scheduled for April 17, 2014.
Ms. Loeffler commends the BLM Office of Law Enforcement and Security for the investigation of this case with assistance from the Alaska State Troopers and the Haines Borough.