U-Med Road Developers Need Permission from BLM Because of Land Patents

Map from the BLM. The patents on the red area have expired. The "for school purposes only" patents on the blue and yellow areas have not. The orange line indicates the location of the proposed road.
Map from the BLM. The patents on the red area have expired. The “for school purposes only” patents on the blue and yellow areas have not. The orange line indicates the location of the proposed road.

1960s era regulations could impact the development of the U-Med District Access Road, also known as the Bragaw Extension. The planned $20 million, two-lane road would cut through University of Alaska-Anchorage lands to join Bragaw with Elmore. But the land has restrictions on it dating from when it was sold by the federal government back in 1964.

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The original land patent says the northeastern area of UAA land can be used “for school purposes only.” It allows for ditches and canals for mining and agriculture, and right of ways for railroads and telegraphs. But not necessarily for roads.

Bureau of Land Management’s acting chief of lands and realty in Alaska, Dave Mushovic, cannot comment on the U-Med District Road directly because the BLM hasn’t received an official plan from UAA, which is the land owner.

He explains that federal land is sold at a discount to state and local governments and non-profits under the Recreation & Public Purposes Act, but the land comes with restrictions. In order to use the land for anything else, landowners have to get permission from the Department of the Interior.

“They really need to because if they don’t, and then we come back and find out they did something that they weren’t allowed to, then we could start that reversionary action and take title back to the entire patent.”

That means the federal government could take back the land. BLM spent months studying the land patent question this spring, at the request of KSKA. They determined in the case of the UAA land, these rules apply to the area “forever.”

But what does the restriction “for school purposes only” really mean? Mushovic:

“School purposes would be any thing that supported the operation of the school on those lands,” Mushovic explained. “So, for example, if they needed dormitories for students, that would be in support of the school purpose. Their own roads and utility systems that support the school.”

Mushovic says the landowner can also sell or give away portions of the land, so long as the use of the land remains in the public interest.

The Department of Transportation is developing the U-Med Access Road. DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says they don’t think the patents would prohibit the development of the road or walkways.

“Access to University of Alaska lands would fit into the purpose – to provide access into the property itself.”

A statement from UAA says they believe the road will provide additional access points to the campus and help the advancement of the university.

But Carolyn Ramsey with Citizens for Responsible Development U-Med says the purpose of the road is to relieve traffic congestion and does not meet the “for school purposes only” condition.

“As far as their land, yes, it does give access to it. But there’s a little word there — “only.” And this “school purposes only” is specifically for education and school. Not for traffic, for better, access, for anything like that.”

BLM Anchorage Field Manager Alan Bittner says they plan to look into the matter. The process won’t take public comments into account, and it’s unclear how long it will take because BLM hasn’t seen the plans yet. DOT wants to start construction on the road this year.