Proposed Settlement Preserves Public Access

Published April 2017

The State of Alaska and Ahtna, Inc. have been engaged in settlement discussions regarding the Klutina Lake Road off the Richardson Highway near Copper Center. Ahtna sued the State in 2008, alleging trespass, and the State counterclaimed to have the court decide the existence and scope of the right-of-way. Before starting a long and contentious trial, the State and Ahtna decided to see if they could settle the case.

The State claimed public access was granted under the Mining Law of 1866, which established what are called R.S. 2477 corridors. The State has vigorously defended these corridors, calling them vital “to preserve public access to lands and resources; enable the state to reasonably manage, maintain and develop the lands, resources and opportunities it owns and holds for the public; maintain state sovereignty and preserve state’s rights.”

The settlement would not cut off access over state land, but the settlement would require recognition by the public that the desires of the majority for convenient access are not superior to the rights of property owners to control the use of their land. Ahtna’s position is backed by the Alaska Federation of Natives, which passed a supportive resolution in 2014.

In recent months, Ahtna and the State of Alaska have made substantive progress on reaching a settlement agreement. While the settlement is not final, it would allow the public access to Klutina River, Klutina Lake and nearby state land that is accessed over Ahtna’s property. Ahtna permits recreational use on Ahtna lands for fees no higher than what is charged by the State of Alaska for the same use on state lands.

“While the State of Alaska and Ahtna have had disagreements about the specific nature and scope of easements on the Klutina Lake Road, the parties have always agreed that the public should have access to the area,” Ahtna President Michele Anderson said. “Ahtna is optimistic that the settlement is part of a collaborative and cooperative spirit that will benefit its shareholders, the general public and the State of Alaska.”

Gov. Bill Walker said the State would seek public comments before finalizing an agreement.