Ahtna has rejected the settlement with the Walker Administration over the public’s historic road access to the Klutina Lake.
This means the 2008 lawsuit over the “RS 2477” access across Ahtna land, that had been interrupted by the proposed settlement, will continue.
According to a press release from the Department of Law today, “After taking extensive public comment on the proposed settlement agreement in the litigation over Klutina Lake Road (officially named Brenwick-Craig Road), settlement negotiations between Ahtna, Inc. and the State have failed. Ahtna, Inc.’s Board of Directors voted to disapprove the proposed settlement.
“I am disappointed that the board was unwilling to come back to the table to see if we could negotiate the final terms of a settlement,” said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth. “The State has always aimed to preserve public access to the greatest extent possible—whether through settlement or litigation. With Ahtna’s decision, we will now focus our efforts on the litigation.”
The State concluded a 45-day comment period on Aug. 30, and had received more than 400 written comments, and conducted five public meetings, with attendance ranging between 25 and 50 people at each meeting.
The State was still reviewing all the comments when it was informed of the actions taken by the Ahtna board, according to the press release.
The next step in the litigation will be for the parties to submit a status report to superior court by October 31, 2017.
A new trial date will be scheduled by the court.
Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly, Sen. Cathy Giessel (Senate Resources Committee Chair), and Sen. John Coghill (Senate Judiciary Committee Chair) announced in August that they had concerns about Walker’s settlement, which could diminish access to fishing grounds.
Among their objections, the senators said that Ahtna needed to be held to specific deadlines for fulfilling its end of the obligations in the settlement, such as construction of parking areas for the public. Although the state has timeframes, Ahtna does not.
“Ahtna, unfortunately, historically, has exhibited difficult behavior on this issue in the past (putting up gates, aggressive litigation, issuing citations, delays, etc.). There needs to be accountability,” the senators wrote.
“On paper, the state may pursue the agreed upon surveying, construction, etc. But in reality, because of financial constraints, those processes may take years. Meanwhile access to all Alaskans will be restricted, with other viable options being severely limited,” the senators write.
The letter also points out that there is no “true dollar amount” attached to the proposed settlement. The required funding could be hundreds of thousands, or even millions, but it is unknown.
This may lead to it being thrown out or unfunded, since the governor does not have the power to appropriate — that is a legislative authority. The governor may be putting the state on the hook for millions of dollars in costs at at a time the state is essentially broke.
The Gulkana cemetery issue is also a concern since it was not a part of the original dispute, and the senators pointed out that from a practical standpoint, the land exchange proposed would make it very difficult for vehicles with trailers to turn around, and that if there is future erosion of the access point, the public will be robbed of its access unless the state ensures it has condemnation authority to restore access.
“Many in the Senate were hopeful the state’s interests would be adequately protected during this lawsuit. Upon review of the proposed language, it’s clear the state isn’t there yet. There is still much work to be done,” the letter says.
The full settlement agreement is posted on the governor’s web site.