In 40 years of public service, one of the more egregious examples of government misconduct I witnessed was endured by Wallace McGregor, a Spokane businessman, geologist and entrepreneur. Now in his 80’s, he is decency, honesty and tenacity personified.
His fortitude is inspiring; and, the callous disregard displayed by the National Park Service for he and his partners’ valid property rights is deplorable. They have been victimized by an uncompensated taking, pure and simple.
It is a cautionary tale inasmuch as it could all too easily happen to any citizen who inadvertently gets in the way of an agency of the federal government that chooses to operate as a rogue elephant and a law unto itself.
Wally’s case is a classic example of “no good deed goes unpunished.” The origin of this unbelievable account was their recognition that a valid, proven up patented mining claim containing literally billions of dollars worth of copper, silver and gold was better off not being developed. Their 360 plus acres ended up within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park created by the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980. They accepted the higher and better use Congress opted for by placing their Orange Hill claim and surrounding area into a National Park.
They expected the Park Service would commence negotiations that would result in a reasonable buy out of their in holding, one that would reflect their investment and some modest return on that investment. By no means were they asking for an exorbitant amount, but rather a reasonable return on a modest investment and recognition of their valid property right. If they made a “mistake,” it was not filing a Mine operating plan.
They reasoned why engage in a charade when they acknowledged the higher and better national interest determined by Congress. They never dreamed 30 years later they would still be subjected to what can only be described as unconscionable shuck and jiving, obfuscation, outright lies and legal wrangling all designed to outwait Wally and his partners.
Governor Andrus calls it “hornswoggling.” He even wrote a letter to the then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suggesting that the secretary could resolve this conflict by ordering the Park Service to engage in an “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) process. Salazar refused to do so.
The NPS may have succeeded in ignoring one man’s property right, but in a larger sense it is coming at a cost – loss of public faith and confidence in the agency – that is the sine qua non of any government agency.
The one reservation Andrus had about the Alaskan lands debate even in the late 1970’s was putting the National Park Service in charge of land management.
During a 10 day media tour of the proposed Alaska national interest lands he led in the summer of 1979 he shared his reservations with Craig Medred, a reporter for the Juneau Southeast Alaska Empire newspaper. He told Craig it might be best to designate most of the areas as parts of the nation’s wilderness system instead of the park system, the difference being that Andrus thought the Forest Service did a much better job of incorporating itself into communities and working with local interests than did the Park Service.
Governor Andrus foresaw the beginnings of an elitist attitude that has arrived in full force today with the NPS often acting in an arrogant, high handed manner, especially with its neighbors in the parks within Alaska.
It is with dismay he reviews accounts of the rude manner in which the agency treated Wally and his partners. It is with dismay he reads accounts of NPS police descending upon some poor Alaska gyppo miner with pistols drawn and rifles pointed.
Somewhere along the way the NPS lost its direction about its role in serving the public in a way that both protects the environment for future generations to enjoy and respects the constitutional rights we all have as citizens of the United States.
Andrus takes a back seat to no one in the fight to protect the crown jewels of the park system, as he dubbed them, but the record also shows that wherever there were valid proven up mineral rights and mine plans showing intent to develop, Andrus and his staff cooperated in establishing access corridors for those valid claims if owners preferred development to purchase of the valid property right.
When our government, or any agency of it, starts trampling on one of the rights almost unique to America, but a right clearly responsible for helping our capitalist system to grow and prosper, and a right not nearly as recognized and respected throughout the rest of the world, we have incontestably started down the path of decline and decay.Share on Facebook