BETHEL — The Alaska Department of Transportation said it plans to restart construction on a road that would help better connect Bethel to its airport, but one Alaska Native family whose property lies where the road would pass through says the state agency isn’t making fair offers for their land.
The state Department of Transportation said they aim to put asphalt on the road by 2023 and that they offered Warren Polk and his family $99,000 for their native allotment next to the H-Marker Lake.
Polk said that the state agency told him if he does not accept their offer, they would take his land through eminent domain.
“To steal the land from us,” Polk said. “That’s basically what eminent domain is, where they get the land so ridiculously cheap it’s stealing.”
The state agency’s spokesperson, Shannon McCarthy, said that they “prefer to acquire the property through negotiation, not through eminent domain.” The state transportation department initially began working on the Tundra Ridge Road Project in 2000. McCarthy said that the $99,000 figure comes from an independent appraiser and the number was reaffirmed by another outside party.
Polk said the appraiser’s assessment was not a fair one.
“The fair market price was not the fair market price,” Polk said. “That’s an insult.”
Polk said he sent the state agency a counteroffer and that if they do not accept it, he is ready to take the case to court.
Sam Fortier, an attorney who has defended eminent domain cases, told KYUK-AM that terms for eminent domain are generally unfavorable for those that own native allotments. Fortier said that while a legal defense that the road is not in the public’s interest would be difficult, a legal defense that the state is not offering enough money for the land could prove more successful.
Acting City Manager Pete Williams has proposed an alternative plan that would not require the purchase of Polk’s land. But McCarthy said that the alternate option would have more impact on wetlands and cost roughly $5 million more than the current plan.
Polk said that since the project started in 2000, the city and state have reached out multiple times in an attempt to buy the family’s property. But Polk said the offers have never been fair to the land passed down to him by his mother.
“We were never about money,” Polk said. “You must be respectful and fair when you’re doing land negotiations. It’s not only disrespectful to the heirs of Lucy Polk, but Lucy Polk herself.”