Alaska Tour Company Sues Zinke Over Competing Permits

ANCHORAGE (CN) – An Alaska-based tourism company specializing in offering “heli-skiing” tours sued the Interior Department Monday over its issuing permits to two new companies wanting to offer the same trips in the same remote mountain range.

In a federal complaint filed in Washington, D.C., plaintiff Triumvirate LLC says it has been the sole helicopter ski tour operator in the remote Tordrillo and Neacola Mountains since it secured its permit operate in 2014.

According to Triumvirate, before it was issued its permit, it was required to submit to a lengthy and detailed permitting process that included the development of environmental and other impact statements, and the opening of their plan to public comment.

But the company claims the same process was no followed in 2016, and then again in 2017, when two others companies were given permits to drop skiers in the same ranges.

“The topography in the area where Triumvirate operates is characterized by jagged peaks, narrow and steep couloirs, glaciers, crevasses, ice fields, and steep snowfields,” the complaint says.

It goes on to say that having one additional company, let alone two, increases the chance of risk in an already dangerous sport.

And while the mountain ranges might cover large tracts of land, only about 10 percent of the area is skiable, and even then, only under the right weather conditions.

“When too many helicopters are flying in too close quarters, especially when attempting to access the same limited areas in difficult-to-navigate terrain and extreme and unpredictable weather conditions, the risk of an accident is substantial,” the complaint says.

Safety concerns aside, Triumvirate claims the bureau ignored federal law when issuing new permits by waiving the requirement for public comment and for the development of an environmental impact statement.

According to the complaint, Triumvirate’s original impact statement was given as the reason a second company could operate safely in the same location.

“The agency determined that because the proposed … permit was ‘nearly identical’ to the Triumvirate permit … there was ‘no new information or any new circumstances to consider,[‘” the complaint says.

Triumvirate says that while some environmental impacts were acknowledged in its plan, having multiple operators offer tours would compound the damage done to the area and have an adverse affect on several species of animals, including Dall sheep.

Triumvirate is seeking a determination that the agencies broke federal law when they issues the permits and an order voiding their issuance.

Representatives of the defendant agencies could not immediately be reached for comment.

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