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Alaska Pub. Easement Defense Fund v. Andrus

Citation: 8 ELR 20019
No. Nos. A75-204, A77-17, 435 F. Supp. 664/(D. Alaska, 07/07/1977)

In consolidated suits to review the action of the Secretary of the Interior in reserving easements upon lands to be patented under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), the court examines the scope of the Secretary's authority to reserve such easements and rejects specific reservations. Under ANCSA, Alaskan natives are permitted to select 40 million acres from the public domain, but under § 17(b)(3), the Secretary is directed to reserve public easements upon the lands selected prior to granting the patents. The Alaskan natives argued that the Secretary's authority under § 17(b)(3) is limited by the provisions of §§ 17(b)(1) and 17(b)(2), the other two portions of the statutory easement selection process. Because the scope of the Secretary's easement reservation authority under the Act is ambiguous, the court reviews the statutory language and legislative intent and resolves the ambiguities in favor of the Alaskan natives rather than the Secretary because of the natives' dependence upon Congress for their protection. The purpose of these public easements is to provide access to public domain lands not selected rather than to provide the public with a right to use the native lands for recreational activities. The court concludes that the Secretary's authority to reserve easements is circumscribed by requirements for a finding of necessity, consideration of the recommendations of the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, and compliance with the § 17(b)(1) criteria for easement selection. Also, public easements may be imposed on lands chosen by the natives which formerly were reservation lands. The court invalidates a specific continuous coastline easement because it is not a reservation "at periodic points," it allows recreation in addition to access, and there is no showing of necessity. The court also rejects the practice of reserving continuous easement along recreational rivers and streams because such reservations are far in excess of those needed for access. Finally, "floating easements" for transportation of future mineral deposits and for future ditches and canals are prohibited because they are not specifically delineated.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Donald J. Beighle
Sealaska Corp., Juneau AK 99801
(907) 586-1512

David Wolf
Keane, Harper, Pearlman & Copeland
909 West 9th Ave., Suite 140, Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 276-5152

Counsel for Defendant
G. Kent Edwards, U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 680, Anchorage AK 99510
(907) 277-1491

L. Mark Wine
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-2712