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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Alaska Wants ‘River Highway’ Fixed

ANCHORAGE (CN) - Alaska wants the United States, private businesses and miners on the wild and scenic Fortymile River to fix damage done do to it by commerce.

Alaska sued a long list of defendants, seeking unclouded title to a portion of the 140 mile-long, navigable river and its embankments under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and Submerged Lands Act of 1953.

In its 81-page federal complaint, Alaska describes the river as a fluid highway, used to transport logs, minerals and mining equipment, freight, supplies and mail, hunting and trapping.

The state also sued Chicken Ventures, Millrock Alaska, Alaska Earth Resources, Mastodon Mining and several people, who were given interest in lands under the river in 1944 from gold and other mining companies.

Some of the native defendants, including defendant Tanana Chiefs Conference, are claiming title to the lands, posting "No Trespassing" signs and suing the public to deny public use of the lands.

The United States already owns the uplands of the Mosquito Fork, which passes through the Copper River, and now wants control of the land at issue.'

But Alaska claims: "The rights-of-way at issue in this case are by definition 'highways' although they are not on the Alaska Highway System."

Although these are local roads, they are also "highways," because they are 100 feet wide.

Alaska claims that a congressionally granted right-of-way "is a valid existing property right constituting a form of easement. As a congressional grant of property for public purposes, such rights-of-way include the right to reasonably use, enjoy, and cross public land."

Alaska says it seeks to "accomplish the congressional intent of promoting the public good through securing safe and efficient means of travel across public lands."

In 1944, the United States issued a mining patent to companies with claims near Chicken Alaska, including parts of the lands under the Mosquito Fork. Some of those claims were transferred to defendant Chicken Ventures LLC and the individual defendants.

It is this cloud on the title which the state claims conflicts with its responsibility for managing navigable waterways.

Alaska claims: "Performance of such maintenance helps to minimize degradation of the servient estate by decreasing erosion, trail braiding and other impacts on adjacent lands."

The state wants to fix potholes, repair washouts, resurface roads and make minor deviations or relocations due to erosion.

It seeks a declaration that the BLM's determination that the river was navigable back in 1983 is not binding at a federal level.

It also claims: "The existing plan inappropriately requires permits for commercial operators who may simply wish to travel State-owned R.S. 2477 rights-of-way within the corridor."

It seeks a ruling that no interest in the designated portion of the Mosquito Fork by the non-federal defendants may interfere with public access along the water routes, regardless of the individuals' allotments.

Attorney General Michael Geraghty seeks quiet title and declaratory judgment.

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