Mr. DICKS. Section 116 would prohibit the National Park Service from carrying out boat inspection or safety checks on the Yukon River within the Yukon-Charley National Preserve in Alaska. This provision was put in at the request of Mr. Young from Alaska who is upset with the National Park Service law enforcement at the preserve.
Last summer, two park rangers arrested a 70-year-old following an altercation during a boat safety inspection. This case is still before the courts, but it has stirred considerable local anger, especially when it was learned that the rangers had handcuffed but later released another local resident who refused to speak to rangers when approached.
Mr. Young of Alaska is a long-time friend of mine, and I am very hesitant to offer this amendment to strike his provision, but I think he has already won the case. The people there, the two rangers, have been reassigned to another duty, and the Park Service does have jurisdiction. I have discussed this with Chairman Young, and the Park Service always has jurisdiction within the national park.
Now, the gentleman from Alaska suggested that the Coast Guard had jurisdiction or the State had jurisdiction, but we have checked this carefully. The Park Service has jurisdiction within the national preserve to look at safety on the river. I think it is wrong to prohibit a safety inspection for people whose lives are at risk up there.
I have been to Alaska many times. These rivers can be very dangerous, and to make sure that the people who are being conveyed--this is a commercial endeavor--the people who are being moved around in these boats are safe, the people who own the boats are safe, whether it is commercial or not.
So I would like to yield to the ranking member and discuss this amendment and the importance of it.
Mr. MORAN. Well, first of all, I would like to ask my good friend: Why is this not an earmark? Why is this not an earmark for one particular national preserve?
While we are considering that, perhaps Mr. Young can come up with an explanation. And I share the ranking member's great affection for Mr. Young. He is a good friend. But this also creates a precedent. Any time something happens on a national preserve or park land, they could come to the Congress and say, all right, no more inspections, and we could get a proliferation of these kinds of things specific to individual national reserves or parks.
The fact is that if the Park Service has jurisdiction, then they have responsibility. And I'll bet you anything that if we were to say there were to be no boat inspections, something's going to happen and some serious accident is going to occur, and then people are going to ask why in gosh name wasn't the Park Service there to do inspections? And it's going to go back to this, where we set a precedent of not allowing any boat inspection or safety check.
Mr. DICKS. Reclaiming my time, the thing is this has happened before. I can remember one of our colleagues putting in a provision in one of these bills, I think it was the Merchant Marine and Fisheries bill years ago, about one of the boats that was going up to Alaska to fish in these very dangerous waters. This wasn't in the river; it was in the ocean. And that boat went down, and there were many questions raised about why that Member had prohibited boat and safety inspections of that boat.
Now, I think the gentleman is completely right. This is a bad precedent. The gentleman from Alaska has already won. He has already gotten his view across with the Park Service. They have taken these rangers away. It's time to leave this. We're doing this amendment in the best interests of Mr. Young. And if Mr. Young would like to get up and explain this, I would like to hear his explanation.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Mr. Chairman, Members of the body, with all due respect, this is about the State's rights. This bill does not preclude the State of Alaska, the Coast Guard, or any other entity from enforcement on the Yukon River. The Park Service can still move on the river. But it does not allow them to enforce inspections of boats on the river that are private. Not in business, but private.
And I have to tell you a little story about this. This is the reason I'm very adamant about it. The Park Service is for the people; it's not for the Park Service. The Park Service in Alaska has become, very frankly, I'd say, like an occupying army of a free territory. To give you an example, this man that was arrested was 70 years old with his wife, who happened to be from Germany--I'm going to bring that up a little later--and a couple. So 70 years old, 69 years old, 68 years old, on a cruise
on the Yukon River in a very seaworthy boat, Coast Guard inspected. And there was another boat on the river and there was a distress signal given by the Park Service. Being a good Samaritan, they went over to help them out. As they approached the boat, they flashed their badges and said: We're the Park Service. We're going to board your vessel and inspect you for safety and registration.
Think about this. A distress signal, and then: We're going to board your boat.
And maritime law says you will not board a boat on a moving river. You have to put it to shore.
And the guy said: Up yours; I'm going to go to shore. And that's what he did.
And he gets to shore, he gets out of the boat. The rangers have already got a shotgun on a 70-year-old man, and carrying a pistol out of the holster. And as the guy walked toward them, they started to say something. He turned around and walked back. They tackled him and rolled him in the mud, a 70-year-old man. These are two young bucks--cowboys--and handcuffed this man, this 70-year-old man, and made him sit on the shore. And they took him a great distance down the river to a village and flew
him to Fairbanks--drove him to Fairbanks--handcuffed.
This is your Park Service? This is not my Park Service. [Page: H5606]
Well, it did go to trial and the judge hasn't rendered his decision yet. In the first place, the State never gave them the authority to do any inspection. In the second place, they never gave them the authority--by the way, the Coast Guard did not give them authority. And they do not have jurisdiction over that water; that's State water. In every State in this Union, it's the State's water. To have the Park Service act like that is dead wrong.
So I'm asking you not to support this amendment. This is an amendment that shouldn't be adopted because we have agencies today who are acting, very frankly, like occupiers. The lady I brought up was from Germany. And during the trial they asked her, the prosecution: Did you ever have a gun pointed at you? And she said: Yes, by the SS troops.
Now, that gives you an idea. A 70-year-old lady and have them point a shotgun. Now, that's wrong.
You say it sets a precedent; yes, it sets a precedent because it's State's waters. This amendment should not be accepted. We should leave it in the bill as it is. It's the right thing to do.
I say vote down the amendment. Think about the little people. Quit thinking about these agencies. These agencies aren't God. Think about the little people. People are abused by agencies, and you're paying for them.
And by the way, the one ranger, the one ranger, had a record longer than my arms, and they hired him to enforce the so-called park regulations.
So I'm asking you to think about this a moment. It's the wrong amendment. This is the right thing to do. It's time we start telling these agencies: Think of the people, not the parks themselves.
This is about parks and partners. And they're certainly not partners in Alaska. They say: We're going to educate Alaskans about Alaska. Now, this is a 70-year-old man that had been living there all his life. And to have that happen is dead wrong.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Chairman, in response to my very good friend, it appears that the conduct--it appears--the conduct of these park rangers was wrong. So they have been reassigned. And I'm sure that whoever has responsibility now in that jurisdiction has been told you don't do this.
Now, these kinds of things happen all over the country, if not all over the world, clearly. Some people in authority abuse their power. It happens with local police departments. It happens with State police. It happens with other people with a badge. And so they get disciplined. Sometimes they get taken to court. But normally we don't change national policy to deal with misconduct, if that's what it was, on the part of certain individuals. We don't change national policy. And that's what you're
trying to do.
Let me put into this discussion and deliberation the fact that they had to go through national park land to get to that State water. They do. And the National Park Service runs the concessions. So the National Park Service does have responsibility for some of the vehicles on this water. They don't know if there's contraband stuff coming. They don't know what's on the vessel.
My guess is--I don't know for sure--my guess is it's very seldom that they're going to stop and board any boat. They would probably have to have some reason. I'm sure now, after this incident, they have to have very substantial reason. But it's entirely conceivable that at some point in the future they're going to have very substantial reason to stop and board a boat. And we have precluded their ability to carry out their responsibility.
So that's why we're concerned about the precedent. We're not concerned about the fact that if there was misconduct, that these folks have been reassigned. We're sure that the instructions that have been given by superiors have changed now to ensure that this incident is never repeated. But we really don't think that the solution is to change national policy, which would have repercussions for other national preserves around the country, and it might have very serious ramifications on this particular
one in the future. We can't tell right now.
Mr. DICKS. Again, I plead with my friend from Alaska. You have made your case. You have gotten the relief for your constituents. The rangers have been reassigned. Accept victory and don't give us an amendment that would undermine boat safety inspections. That's what this amendment does.
Let me read this amendment: No other funds made available by this Act may be used by the Secretary of the Interior to implement or enforce regulations concerning boating and other activities on or relating to waters located within Yukon Charlie National Preserve, including waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Pursuant to section 3(h) of public law, or any other authority.
Mr. MORAN. Reclaiming my time, it's clear that's not just the waterway. That includes all of the land. The entire park on this national preserve, they can't carry out their responsibilities. We're not just talking about the water.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Again, this is Yukon Charlie, the Yukon River that was used by the Gold Rush people, has been used by Alaskans all these years without the Park Service. The State has authority over the waters. The Coast Guard has the authority for inspection. The State has the authority for registration, not the Park Service. This is navigable water that is our water. Now, the land is there on one side. But this is our water.
I have not won because I may have won a temporary battle, but there can be another park ranger--rangers. There can be another park superintendent that does not listen to anyone. Then where are we?
Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I appreciate my friend from Washington reading the section, but he left out the last sentence of that section.
I think this is a pertinent part and this is the point that the gentleman from Alaska is making, and it regards safety inspection.
I will quote the last sentence: ``This section does not affect the authority of the Coast Guard to regulate the use of waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States within the Yukon Charlie Preserve.''
I would interpret that as saying the safety part of that is taken care of. But the gentleman from Alaska certainly is right on the part that these are State waters.
I appreciate the gentleman for yielding. [Page: H5607]
Mr. MORAN. I was happy to yield.
Reclaiming my time, I would respond to the gentleman, the Coast Guard really doesn't spend much time on rivers. It's normally coastal waters. It may have responsibility, but the fact is the Coast Guard normally doesn't apply much in the way of resources.
I would like to know how large is this national preserve, because I suspect it's a very expansive national preserve that we're talking about. Do we know?
Mr. DICKS. If the Park Service doesn't have jurisdiction, how does the Coast Guard have jurisdiction? That's another Federal agency. The gentleman changed his story and told me it was the State that had authority. I wonder who in the hell has authority.
Mr. MORAN. I thank the Chair.
I think a number of very good questions have been raised by the ranking member of the full committee--Appropriations Committee--and we are concerned about this precedent. We're also concerned about the safety of people who use this national preserve. We can understand Mr. Young's angst, but nevertheless we have a responsibility not to establish precedent that may come back to haunt us.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just want to point out that the staff clearly researched the language here and applicable laws that relate to these waters. That's what we do when we put this language in here.
With that, I yield to the gentleman from Alaska.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. To answer the gentleman, the Coast Guard has all the authority for enforcement on all waters, including all rivers. In fact, sometimes the Coast Guard is too active on the river, as far as I'm concerned. I have been on that river. Like I say, I'm a tugboat captain, a licensed mariner, and my biggest challenge to this is excessive use of the Park Service.
Now, you say I won that battle. Like I said before, that doesn't keep them from trying to enforce this again over the State's objection. The State didn't give them the right to register the boats or check registrations. The Coast Guard didn't give them the right to inspect the boat.
And remember this now: Here are two guys giving a distress signal and a good citizen tried to help them and they flash a badge. This sounds like you know what to me. That's not a good thing. I get very frustrated. Leave this in the bill. Let the Park Service know they no longer can trod over the people of Alaska because they are part of the Federal Government. They are the Park Service--You better listen to us--when this man was breaking no laws. This is wrong.
Now, you say I have won the battle. Maybe I have. But it took a lot of effort to do it. But I haven't won the war. And they will come back. So I'm suggesting this stay in the bill as it is. It's very, very important.
Mr. MARKEY. I rise in support of the amendment.
We understand that this is a huge 2.5 million-acre park and that what we're talking about here is a 158-mile-long river in the middle of this park, so we're talking about a huge area.
Mr. MARKEY. I reclaim my time to say that the 158-mile area is a portion of the inside of the park, of the 2.5 million-acre park. So it seems to me what the gentleman is suggesting is that he believes--and I understand--that the National Park Service or that an individual officer made a mistake here, that they abused their authority, and I understand that.
When I was a boy, my favorite television show when I was 9, 10, 11 was ``Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.'' He had his faithful horse, Rex, and his dog, Yukon King. Each week at 5 o'clock on Friday, he would come out to patrol the Yukon. He worked for the Canadian Royal Mounties. I would like to think that, if he ever made a mistake--if he ever overstepped his boundaries, if he ever improperly treated anyone he was in the process of arresting--that the punishment wouldn't be that the Mounties could
never again, any of them, go into the Yukon, because that would seem to me to kind of result in a less fully implemented set of law enforcement principles in that area.
What we're learning here is that the punishment to the National Park Service for potentially something that one or two officers engaged in is that none of them can continue their policing, which the Coast Guard says they need. In fact, this is, in many ways, such a remote part of the Yukon that the Coast Guard right now relies upon the Park Service police to police these areas.
The answer which we're getting from the gentleman of Alaska--and I understand the example that he's trying to make of this one particular incident--is that you're using this as something that, I think, is illustrative--okay?--and perhaps just the highlight, but I don't think you really want the result to be a reduction in the overall enforcement of the laws inside of the park, because that's what would result here. The partnership between the Coast Guard and the Park Service on this river and
all that abuts the river is something that is seamless and has worked for generations, and it is something that everyone seems to support.
Perhaps you could target this a little bit more narrowly but not punish the entire Park Service and every officer in the Park Service. It's like every person who works there is now going to suffer as a result of this amendment, and I don't think that's what you intend.
So I will support the amendment of the gentleman from Washington State. It will, I think, make it possible for us to come back to maybe take another look at but not in a way that undermines this partnership that has existed up there for a generation, which has worked. By the way, if there is an exception in any police department, the action of that person who did something wrong should not lead to that entire police department never again being able to enforce the laws. That would be an indictment
of everyone; okay?
I think, to the extent to which the Dicks amendment seeks to delete the provision which is in the bill, it doesn't mean that you can't come back and talk about something that might be more specific.
Mr. DICKS. Again, what I worry about here is we're talking about safety. We're talking about inspecting boats that may be unsafe. I think that is an important issue that we should not deal with in an across-the-board way here in this bill.
I think the gentleman from Alaska has made his point. I think he should support our amendment to strike this in order to make sure that the people of Alaska are protected. I know he cares about them.
Mr. MARKEY. Reclaiming my time, the effect of this amendment could be, because the Coast Guard relies upon the Park Service, that we wind up with an entire area without any law enforcement. Because the Coast Guard does not reach that area, the Park Service is there. If you take out the Park Service, it becomes much more of a dangerous place for everyone, and I don't think that's really what the gentleman intends. [Page: H5608]
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. SIMPSON. It has been a fascinating debate to listen to the gentleman from Massachusetts and the gentleman from Virginia tell the gentleman from Alaska how it works in Alaska. I will tell you that he knows more about Alaska than any of you ever thought of knowing. 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 has taken.
Now, logically, your argument says if people have problems in their own areas, then you might see other amendments come up like this and we'll be setting a precedent. Exactly. If we can't have oversight about what goes on and about what the Park Service does, why are we even here?
You heard the story, which I won't repeat, of what happened to this gentleman, Mr. Wilde, on the river. We all agree that it's a problem. In fact, when the Park Service stops the gentleman in the middle of the river and tells him to shut down his boat, to shut down his motors--and as they testified in court, they refused to shut down theirs because it was unsafe--who is being protected? That's the point. The safety inspections of these boats will not stop. The statutory authority is given to
the Coast Guard. That's who has the statutory authority, not the Park Service. That's the debate that's going on here.
This language is intended to only limit the Park Service's authority to engage in boater safety checks on the Yukon River within the Yukon Charley National Preserve, the only non-ocean navigable waterway within Alaska's national parks. It is important to note that this language will not have any effect on the ability of the Coast Guard to conduct the statutorily granted power of conducting boater safety checks. It is intended to avoid similar incidents between the Park Service and the public.
Yes, when Mr. Young brought this up originally, the manager of the Park Service could have said, ``You're right. There is a problem there, and I'll get rid of these people.'' They didn't do that. It took this to bring about the actions that have finally occurred: that they've been dismissed from that region. We're trying to prevent the Park Service from harming itself.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Just keep in mind that the Coast Guard has its authority. As soon as this happened, I called the Coast Guard because the Park Service said the Coast Guard had granted them that authority. The Coast Guard said, No way. That's our authority.
Secondly, they said, with registration, only the State has the right to register a boat--that's the same thing in your State--not any Federal agency.
Remember, this is the highway of Alaska. The highway of Alaska has been used for hundreds of years, and we've gotten along very well without any Park Service all these years. By the way, I don't think there was a drowning because of a boat accident on that section of the river--in history. So why all of a sudden you're wanting me to protect the Alaskan people who do not like this, I do not understand.
Very frankly, I think you're meddling. You're meddling in something that a State has a great interest in, that has said before, This is our waterway. We have a right to traverse it from Canada through Alaska, all the way down to the Bering Sea. By the way, it had an illegal boat. According to the Coast Guard, the boat they were driving was overpowered. So just leave this in the bill as it should be.
I ask all of my colleagues to think about this very carefully. Do you want an agency that does not respect the rights of individuals because they work with the government or an agency that does not respect the rights of history? I don't think you do.
So I'm asking for the amendment to be defeated, and I'm asking for my colleagues to understand this is a big issue in my State. It is very, very important, not only to me, but to my people--the people of the State of Alaska, who have been using that river for centuries. So let's just leave it in the bill.
So let's just leave it in the bill.
Mr. DICKS. 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. We go through a process to see what that officer did. I think the gentleman gets the gist.
Mr. SIMPSON. Reclaiming my time, we're not getting rid of law enforcement here. The Coast Guard will still do the safety inspections which they are statutorily authorized to do. The Park Service is not statutorily authorized to do that. They say they have been given that authority from the Coast Guard. I don't think that's the case.
So we're not getting rid of anything. What we're doing is clearing up a jurisdictional problem here.
Mr. DICKS. I would hope we could clarify this. There seems to be a misunderstanding here. I hope that we can, if my amendment doesn't prevail, that we could try to work together to clarify this before conference.