Alaska sues feds over ownership of land under river

  • Monday, November 26, 2018 1:13am
  • News

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Alaska has sued the federal government in a bid to get it to recognize the state’s ownership of the land beneath two forks of the Fortymile River in the eastern Interior.

The river’s Middle and North forks run mostly through U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands. The federal government owns a large section of the Fortymile River region, which is Alaska’s oldest gold mining district.

Assistant Attorney General Jessie Alloway said the lawsuit filed earlier this month followed a letter from Fortymile miners that asked the state to pursue its interest in the two forks, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday.

“Both rivers are within a (federally designated) Wild and Scenic Corridor, so there are differences between state and federal management,” Alloway said.

When Alaska became a state, it was given ownership of lands below navigable waterways within state boundaries, but Alaska and the federal government have disagreed about the definition of “navigable.”

The Bureau of Land Management is required to follow a narrower definition defined in case law, said Erika Reed, a director for land and cadastral survey at the agency.

“The BLM doesn’t contest state ownership, but we are the responsible federal executive agency to determine navigability for title purposes,” she said.

The agency had previously declared the two forks as non-navigable, but it was reviewing that conclusion this fall based on data collected earlier this year, Reed said.

“The state was aware that BLM was conducting a reassessment but chose to file suit before BLM could complete its work,” Reed said.

Over the last six years, the state Department of Natural Resources has sought a more expansive definition of “navigable” to get more recognition of ownership, Alloway said.

The state chooses what rivers to pursue based on the “most immediate value to the public,” the state assistant attorney general said.

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