Occupy Fairbanks tent remains in park despite borough ban

COLD: Members say they need it to exercise rights to free speech.

Associated PressNovember 23, 2011 

FAIRBANKS -- The Occupy Fairbanks movement and borough officials can't agree about the tent that protesters set up in an effort to stay warm during days of record-breaking cold in Alaska's second-largest city.

The shelter is still up at Veterans Memorial Park despite instructions from Fairbanks North Star Borough officials to take it down, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Wednesday.

Group members have said they need the tent and its wood stove to continue to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. However, borough officials have said the tent violates park rules.

About six protesters have stayed at the downtown Fairbanks park 24 hours per day for more than a month.

During Nov. 17th's Borough Assembly meeting, Assemblyman Michael Dukes asked the administration to set a hard deadline for the protesters to remove all the tents.

"We need to give them some firm ground rules to say today is the day," he said.

That was the day that temperatures reached 41 degrees below zero in Fairbanks.

Mayor Luke Hopkins and Borough Attorney Renee Broker have been wary about the legal implications of taking a hard line with the protesters.

"The regulations that I have seen have actions in them that I think step strongly on First Amendment rights," Hopkins said.

Currently, the borough doesn't have police powers except for animal control and curfew. That leaves other parts of borough code, such as zoning and rules against tents in public parks, unenforced.

Broker explained the borough either has to enforce it all or can't enforce any of it.

"I am not prepared to go down the road of selectively picking out one and enforcing it, particularly when it involves constitutional issues and other things that could get us in the briar patch really quick," she said.

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