'Gold Rush: Alaska': Permits vs. dreams in America

todd-hoffman-gold-rush-alaska.jpgAfter a blockbuster premiere on Friday, Dec. 3, and two more well-received episodes after that, Discovery's "Gold Rush: Alaska" returns after a holiday break on Friday, Jan. 7, with seven original episodes in a row, continuing to question whether a bunch of down-on-their-luck guys can turn their fortunes around with a gold strike in the Alaskan wilderness.

Of course, the wilderness isn't what it used to be, and if you're not careful, the bureaucracy could turn your dreams to mud -- literally.
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The unscripted series follows a group of Oregon men hard-hit by the economic downturn that decides to head north with hopes of striking it rich. Led by Todd Hoffman and his father, Jack Hoffman (the only experienced miner in the bunch), the would-be gold miners sell property (including two of Jack Hoffman's planes) and scrape money together to buy heavy equipment and supplies and ship them up by barge to Alaska.

After an arduous journey -- including forging a glacier-fed river when a bridge proved inadequate -- they set up near Porcupine Creek and start searching for the glory hole (a rich vein of gold).

But before the first shovel hit the dirt, the Hoffmans and their partners had to hack through a mass of red tape.

"To get a mining permit," Todd Hoffman tells Zap2it, "we went through 10 to 20 different agencies, that had a peek at it."

The miners did obtain many permits and permissions, even though it's not always shown on screen.

"Choosing between filming somebody going into an office and getting a permit," says executive producer Sam Maynard, "and somebody crossing a raging torrent, I know which one I'm going to pick."

And it wasn't up to the producers to hold their hands. The Hoffmans already had begun the process when they contacted production company Raw Television after seeing a solicitation on the Internet. Raw is there to document the proceedings, not create the scenarios. But the concept did intrigue Scotsman Maynard.

"It's this idea," he says, "that when your back's against the wall, what do you do about it?"

Obviously, the Hoffmans decided to go all in and pursue their dreams.

"But is it possible?" says Todd Hoffman. "Has it become an environment where it's possible now?"

In the first of the new episodes, the miners have diverted water from Porcupine Creek to feed their mining equipment, but an Alaska Department of Fish and Game inspector shows up and objects, fearing that salmon will head down the miners' channel and get stuck in the holding pond.

So that source of water literally dries up, the pond turns to a patch of caked muck, and the miners have to scramble to find a new way to get water or give up on mining entirely

"Here's what you've got," says Todd Hoffman. "There's these little guys from Oregon who want to go for it. You've got people over here who are like, 'You know what, we're behind them. Yeah! Can we really do this in America anymore? Could the American spirit still live today? Can we really do this?' And then you've got these people over here, worrying if we squished salmon.

"So, what corner are you on? What side of the fence are you on?"
Photo/Video credit: Discovery