The Alaska Railroad Corp. board voted Tuesday morning to drop a contentious policy that levied fines and fees on homeowners with lawns, sheds and other property within 100 feet of railroad tracks.
The board's reversal was a win for homeowners who fought the policy. The railroad will refund homeowners who paid for permits, said Tim Sullivan Jr., a spokesman for the railroad.
Over the years, land adjacent to the tracks has become home to lawns, gardens, sheds, decks, children's play equipment, boats and vehicles. Some homeowners contested the legal status of the area and the railroad's claims to it.
In 2013, the railroad, citing safety and liability issues, passed a policy that initially charged $250 for a permit to use the land, in addition to annual fees. It triggered a strong reaction, particularly in the Oceanview neighborhood of Anchorage. Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, and other lawmakers got involved in a yearslong push to get the railroad to change its mind.
Sullivan said the railroad had already worked out deals with homeowners to roll back the permit costs. But he said the issue had become a "political lightning rod" and an obstacle for the railroad's priorities in other areas.
Rescinding the policy doesn't affect ownership or access of the right-of-way, marked in Anchorage by blue surveyor stakes, Sullivan said.
"As we see this issue come up, we'll continue to have conversations with neighbors," Sullivan said.
Bob Gastrock, a retired pilot, said his South Anchorage homeowners association had been paying several thousand dollars a year in permit fees to access an airstrip adjacent to the railroad tracks.
Gastrock said some 1,200 landowners along the railbelt were affected by the policy. He called the Tuesday action by the board "a breath of fresh air."