In its complaint, Alaska said it gained title to submerged lands and navigable waters when it acquired statehood, unless the federal government made any claims prior. The state said the federal government based its claim to ownership on a 1984 administrative decision of the Alaska office of federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Alaska files lawsuit over Knik River ownership
WASILLA — The state of Alaska filed suit against the federal government this week over a land ownership dispute regarding submerged Knik River lands.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.
According to a spokesperson from state attorney general Jahna Lindemuth’s office, Alaska wants to assert ownership after failed past attempts to have the United States recognize Alaska ownership of the riverbed.
According to documents filed in federal district court for the District of Alaska, the United States in 2015 conveyed ownership of portions of the Knik River to Eklutna Inc. On its website, Eklutna, Inc. states it owns significant holdings in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, with approximately 67,000 additional acres due to be conveyed from the Bureau of Land Management. It also owns 90,000 acres within the Municipality of Anchorage, including areas of Eagle River, Birchwood, Chugiak, Peters Creek and Eklutna.
“Such action casts a cloud a cloud over the state’s title,” legal document filings by the state said. “In bringing this lawsuit, the State of Alaska seeks to confirm and retain its right to manage its own lands and waters…the United States claims ownership of other lands in dispute vial this complaint because of its ownership of lands abutting the Knik River.”
In its complaint, Alaska said it gained title to submerged lands and navigable waters when it acquired statehood, unless the federal government made any claims prior. The state said the federal government based its claim to ownership on a 1984 administrative decision of the Alaska office of federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). That office concluded the stretch of river is not navigable.
The BLM amended the decision in 2002. In September of 2015, relying on its 2002 decision, the BLM issued a decision approving certain lands — chosen by Eklutna Inc. for conveyance to the corporation which represents approximately 175 shareholders, according to its website. It is an Alaskan corporation created under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act for the Native village with the same name.
This month, the state, BLM and Eklutna officials entered into a settlement agreement to resolve state public easement concerns. BLM has indicated it would review its decision in portions within and adjacent to the disputed bottomland areas.
“This case is an important step towards clarifying ownership and access rights for the Knik River,” Lindemuth said. “I would have preferred to avoid litigation, but the federal government refused to recognize the state’s rights to these lands and waters. We are hoping that filing litigation will spur the federal government to quickly overturn its prior decision.”
The state is also seeking to recover costs and attorney fees in the case. Federal officials have yet to respond to the court.