State Lawsuit in Navigable Waters Repels Federal Overreaction – Mike Dunleavy
The state of Alaska is suing the federal government for state ownership of sunken land beneath four inland rivers.
The lawsuit filed today in federal district court seeks to erase all federal property claims on land under the sections of the South Fork of the Koyukuk River, the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, the Bettles River and the Dietrich River.
“The federal government continues to deny the obvious in a bold attempt to prevent the State of Alaska from taking ownership of its underwater land, and this is disappointing but no longer surprising.” said Governor Dunleavy. “This lawsuit marks the next step in my ongoing Unlocking Alaska Initiative to enforce our land tenure rights against government disabilities.”
The state’s claim to the underwater land beneath these rivers is based on the U.S. Constitution, the Equal Footing Doctrine, the Federal Submerged Lands Act, and the Federal Quiet Title Act, which recognize state control over the waters within their boundaries, who supported or could have supported commercial travel in the case of statehood.
The state Departments of Natural Resources and Law’s support for the Unlocking Alaska Initiative recently resulted in a major victory when the Interior Board of Land Appeals ordered the state, not the federal government, to use the 7,500 acres of sunken land under the Kuskokwim River near by McGrath owned. The state’s case was based largely on the same principles relied on in today’s lawsuit and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
“We had to go to the courts repeatedly to force the United States to recognize Alaska’s sunken land ownership.” said Attorney General Treg Taylor. “We have contested the Stikine River, the Kandik and Nation Rivers, the Gulkana River, and the Knik River, and we are currently litigating the Fortymile Basin. This land has belonged to Alaska since 1959, and it is high time the US government recognized this fact. “
“The promise of statehood was that Alaska would control its land” said Corri Feige, commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources. “Despite our repeated efforts, resolving even clear cases of state ownership has taken decades. This lawsuit is a concrete step in Alaska to assert its rights to sunken land that has belonged to us since it was founded. “
In other recent statehood defenses, the governor sued a federal district court to compel the Home Office to release his decade-long holdings of nearly 28 million acres of state for consideration of statehood land selection, Alaskan allotment, or other beneficial uses. He has also asked for additional funds to bolster the state’s legal resources to defend state land claims against federal violation, delays, and obstruction.