CONFIRMATION OF NEW AG HELD DUE TO FISHING ACCESS CASE
Acting Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth was vetted today by the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee.
It started well, but quickly got bumpy for the state’s top law enforcement officer when she explained how she was negotiating a settlement to a land access case that was, for some senators, a bridge too far. They appeared far from convinced she was the fighter that Alaska needs.
Lindemuth was asked by senators why, instead of defending Alaska in court, she was negotiating the case that Ahtna Corp. had brought against the State’s historic right-of-way to the Klutina Lake fishing and recreation area, a place where everyday Alaskans have access to salmon and other fish.
Ahtna Corp. sued the State of Alaska about nine years ago, Lindemuth explained. The trial had been set for late April when she filed a pleading with the court to stay the case, in other words put off the trial, so that her department could negotiate a settlement.
Lindemuth said she had to decide whether or not to pursue the case and it was her judgment and her right as attorney general to settle.
A 150-year-old historic trail designation makes all traditionally used trails and byways official state rights of way. RS-2477 gives the public a 100-foot passage through Athna land to the fishing grounds.
Ahtna wants to downgrade the right-of-way designation from RS-2477 to a lesser 17-B, which would greatly diminish access for Alaskans.
Alaska has fought for RS-2477 standards for years, but now the Walker Administration has no stomach to fight.
“We had an all-day mediation at the end of January that went late into the night until 10 at night, and then two weeks more of back and forth between lawyers on the ground on it before I was confident enough that we were close enough for a framework about what would be on the table, before I could put off the litigation.
“I hope that folks at the end of the day will look at it as a win-win,” Lindemuth said. In every negotiation there is compromise, she said, and the State will not get everything it asserted, nor will Ahtna, she said. Some question whether the right of way actually exists.
She would not get into the particulars of the case, since she is negotiating it. But she allowed that she didn’t want to go to litigation because the state could lose, and it would affect other access cases. Settling was her best decision, she said.
Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks was not impressed.
“I really don’t want you as the AG to find a win-win situation. Your client is the State of Alaska and I want you to win on this and that should be your approach.” – Sen. Pete Kelly
“I don’t want you dropping this case and pulling the pin,” Kelly said. “I am not as interested in process or win-win or anything like that.
“RS-2477 exists,” he continued. “The problem we had over the years is getting governors to assert, and we need to make sure all the noise is out of the way as we assert our State right on RS-2477, which is federal law.”
To make sure she didn’t misunderstand, Kelly spelled out his concern once again: “It appears as if you’re going to a settlement that doesn’t make sense for the State of Alaska.”
He said he’d need a lot of answers on RS-2477 before he could recognize Lindemuth’s name to the floor for a vote. (As Senate President, Kelly has procedural discretion to move her nomination forward or hold it back.)
Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, seemed to agree: Access is so limited in Alaska, he asked her to hear them and their concerns on the access issue.
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, noted that Lindemuth’s negotiation would have far-reaching impacts on other access issues across the state, and said she was surprised that Lindemuth was afraid to go to trial because the case might fail.
Costello recalled working for Gov. Wally Hickel and said he would fight the federal government without fear of failure. She challenged Lindemuth, who had years before attended elementary school with her in Anchorage, to “take a stand, fight and risk failure.”
Lindemuth could not address the committee’s concerns because she has already entered negotiations in the case.
Lindemuth’s confirmation was held in committee for further hearings next week that will include public testimony.
Great job Suzanne! Excellent piece on this issue the other day! I immediately brought this to the attention of Senator Hughes, she was NOT happy!
I have called all members of the Judiciary Committee to not pass her out of committee until and unless the negotiations are stopped and a full on attack in court to uphold ALL Alaskans rights to our lands, PERIOD!
Keep up the good and excellent work!
March 9, 2017
To Alaska Decision Makers Charged With Representing All Alaskans:
The recent news that the State of Alaska is considering the abandonment of RS-2477 to a lesser 17-B designation for Klutina River and Lake is shocking to me. Via a number of legislated and negotiated land use settlements the issue of access for non-natives to public resources has become a major issue. The continued exclusion of reasonable access to our state resources is and should be a “hot button” issue for all citizens of Alaska, both native and non-native.
This represents a land grab attempt by a small minority of Alaskan’s for their personal gain at the expense of the citizens in general. More personally, it puts access to my property on Klutina Lake at serious risk. When access to public water bodies, which hold world class resources, is barred there will always be serious conflict. The public clearly see the injustice and resents the lack of representation by the law. On the other hand, those with the advantage will fiercely cling to that legal right. The result is conflict and resentments. The State of Alaska is not doing the citizenry any favors by this type of action. This suggested short term resolution of the legal conflict will result in long term and irrevocable damage.
Historically, non-native visitors to the Klutina have endured prejudicial actions toward personal and real property. Visitors to the area know that there are unpleasant risks that detract from the enjoyment of the area. This unsettling feeling is exactly what the perpetrators wish to portray. This settlement will simply make matters worse.
This demand by Ahtna gives them the right to approve, at the expense of all Alaskan Citizens, road maintenance. So, Alaskan citizens can pay for Ahtna access via the road system but those same citizens cannot freely use the road for access to the public resources and cannot control what improvements are done. This arrangement cannot make sense to a reasonable person.
If the right-of-way is diminished from 100 feet to 50 feet what happens when the river erodes the bank and the road course needs to be altered outside the established narrow 50-foot right-of-way. Will the citizens of the State be required to purchase the land from Ahtna so they can repair the road that Ahtna will mostly benefit from? If you have been up the road you know that this is not a farfetched problem. It will most certainly occur.
I encourage all Alaska Legislators to look at the long term problems this proposed settlement, being championed by the Walker Administration thru Acting Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, will bring to this specific region and to other areas of our great State. I also ask all Alaskans that care about access to State of Alaska resources to get involved. This proposed settlement is so egregious it makes you wonder what or who is behind this change in long standing public policy to defend RS-2477.
Alaskans have been short shrifted in the arena of RS 2477 for years now through this same type of squishy attention to access rights from most of our administration, certainly not just the Walker administration. I appreciate Mr. Ossenkop and Mr. Coon’s position concerning this particular issue and will also recommend that Jahna Lindemuth’s nomination be recinded and replaced by a candidate for AG that will be diligent and aggressive on behalf of all Alaskas claims to access under both our constitution as well to RS 2477 rights.
The previous replies have hinted that there is much more to this story – and there is. I recently asked DNR office of assertions and defenses why they would not pursue an RS-2477 case in my area: there reply was “there are land issues involved”. That is precisely the point – what we want rectified. They would tell me no more. It appears that the inequities in ANCSA are what is at stake, and the State doesn’t have the guts, or/and perhaps the money, to fight this.
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