Ahtna rejects continued public use of Klutina Lake Road

The Ahtna Native Corporation board has rejected a proposed settlement with the State to allow continued public use of Klutina Lake Road. The 25-mile road off the Richardson Highway near Copper Center, crosses Ahtna land, to the Klutina River and Klutina Lake. Ahtna declined an interview request, but a corporation press release said the proposal compromised Ahtna’s private land use rights. State Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said it would have maintained some public access.

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”It would be a 100-foot right-of-way, and people would be able to park on it, launch their boats from it where the river met the 100-foot right-of-way,” Mills said. “What the public would not be able to do is to camp or overnight park within the state right-of-way. Instead, Ahtna promised if the settlement had gone forward, to provide camping areas for a fee.”]

Mills said the proposed settlement drew over 400 public comments, representing a range of views.

”We had people who really were worried about the litter and other waste from people who use the area for camping and boating, and then we have the people who are avid users of the river who wanted to maintain it as open as possible,” Mills said.

Ahtna’s rejection of the settlement sends the access issue back to court. Ahtna initially sued the state after a 2007 Department of Transportation maintenance project it says illegally widened the roadway and removed Ahtna Corporation signs and a fee station. Mills said the state considers the road an RS-2477 public right of way.

”The state claims that this is one of those rights-of-way that, through historic use, became a public road,” Mills said. “And so that’s kinda what instigated this whole case back in 2008.”

Mills said resolution of the case could set some precedent in regard to state claims on numerous other contested RS-2477 routes around Alaska.

Attorneys for the state and Ahtna have to submit status briefs to the superior Court by October 31st. A trial date has yet to be scheduled.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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