The State of Alaska on Wednesday filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government over ownership of a 15-mile waterway on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, Attorney General Treg Taylor announced.
The waterway overlies submerged lands that became Alaska’s at Statehood. Alaska will pursue litigation unless the federal government abandons its claims to the land, the notice stated.
In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Attorney General Taylor gave the required 180 days’ notice of the State’s intent to file a quiet title action to eliminate any federal cloud on title to lands beneath the Sarkar Canoe Route.
The route traverses the Sarkar River and several lakes and connecting waterways inside the Tongass National Forest, which the U.S. Forest Service and commercial tour operators tout as an attractive two-day paddle-and-portage trip through a pristine area.
The legal action is the next step in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “Unlocking Alaska Initiative,” aimed at asserting State ownership of its lands in the face of federal resistance and obstruction, said Corri Feige, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
“We firmly believe that title to submerged lands like those underlying the Sarkar Canoe Route became Alaska’s at Statehood, but for too many years federal agencies have resisted acknowledging our ownership,” Feige said. “Our Public Access Assertion and Defense section has worked with the Department of Law to defend our position, which we will continue to press in court as long as it takes to win full control of our Statehood land birthright.”
The State asserts that ownership of submerged lands passed to Alaska at Statehood, based on the U.S. Constitution’s equal footing doctrine, the federal Submerged Lands Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the Alaska Statehood Act. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, buttressed by two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, also made clear State ownership prevails on such lands even inside federal conservation system units.
The State used the same legal arguments in a similar quiet title notice it filed for submerged lands in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and in a suit it recently filed for submerged lands at the Koyukuk River. Citing the same claims, Alaska last year won its case before the Interior Board of Land Appeals asserting ownership of submerged lands at the Kuskokwim River.
Photo credit: Trip Adviser