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Rural Alaska

State gets right of way in agreement with Native corporation over Klutina Lake Road

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: May 16, 2019
  • Published May 16, 2019

The Klutina River looking to the east. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

A long-running battle over a rough track into an Alaska wilderness gem near Copper Center has resulted in an agreement that the state owns the right of way.

The agreement on Klutina Lake Road between Ahtna Inc. and the state still leaves unclear whether the public can camp or park there without paying fees, state officials say.

Ahtna says they can’t, and a permit to use Ahtna lands is still required.

The road -- officially it’s called Brenwick-Craig Road -- runs more than 20 miles from the Richardson Highway across Ahtna lands in the Copper River Valley to a lake ringed by the Chugach Mountains. Visitors park along the road, put in boats on the Klutina River or make use of a small public access at the lake.

The dispute over the road began in 2008 when Ahtna, the regional Alaska Native corporation, sued to remove state authority over the road.

The state had argued that a 100-foot public easement established by a federal mining law from the 1800s provided free pullouts, camping and some river access for non-Ahtna shareholders. Ahtna contended another federal provision provides only a 60-foot easement and bars any stops other than for emergencies without paying a Native corporation access fee that starts at $15 a day.

Under the settlement, the parties agree there is a 100-foot right of way along the length of the road from the Richardson Highway to Klutina Lake, according to an announcement Thursday from state Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

The settlement was filed Friday in Anchorage Superior Court, according to senior assistant attorney general Cori Mills. The case had been scheduled for what was expected to be a 4- to 6-week trial in April.

The settlement gives both parties the right to appeal rulings issued by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi throughout the case.

The state plans to have the Alaska Supreme Court determine whether the public can use the right of way to camp, launch boats and park, Mills said. Guidi had ruled the public was restricted just to driving the road.

“(T)he public should be cautious in how they use the road until the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled,” the statement from the Alaska Department of Law says. “The public should be aware that unless and until the appeal is resolved in favor of the State, Ahtna’s land use policy requires a land use permit for activities on Ahtna lands, including camping or parking, unless in an emergency.”

The attorney representing Athna in the case, however, says the trial judge ruled that camping and recreational use of Ahtna’s land is prohibited without Ahtna’s permission.

That remains the law “unless and until the Supreme Court reverses that ruling, which may never happen,” said attorney Matt Singer, with Holland & Knight LLP.

The public still needs a permit to use Ahtna lands, spokeswoman Shannon Blue wrote in an email.

“Ahtna lands are privately owned and managed and patrolled to protect property rights and prevent trespass. Camping or stopping, unless an emergency, is not permitted within any right-of-way on Ahtna lands. This includes the right-of-way along the Brenwick-Craig road.”

Ahtna land-use permits are available for purchase online, through the mail, by phone, or in person at corporate headquarters in Glennallen.

Ahtna rejected a prior settlement in 2017 that established a 100-foot right of way and several public-use access points. It also addressed decades of grave desecration and other problems at the Historic Gulkana Village off the Richardson.