State loses bid for easements near Chicken

In court, the state of Alaska lost its bid for easements along historic trails across Native Allotments near Chicken, in Interior Alaska. The Department of Law is now turning to the larger issue of getting easements along historic trails crossing private and federal land.

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Mon. March 14, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Interior, Tanana Chiefs Conference and Native allotment owners Agnes and Anne Purdy. Richard Monkman represents the regional nonprofit Tanana Chiefs Conference on the side of the Purdy’s.

“In simple terms this was a land grab,” Monkman said. “The state was trying to get something for nothing at the expense of a Native family that had been in possession of this land for a long long time. The courts put an end to that.”

Monkman said the facts fly in the face of the state’s argument that the trails are needed for public use:

“They asserted in court that they had a right of way to go from Chicken to Eagle across the Purdy’s land and they needed the land for that purpose,” said Monkman. “But there’s a state highway, just a few miles to the east that takes people back and forth quite adequately. There’s no reason for them to take this land.”

Department of Law assistant attorney general Cori Mills says the state hasn’t decided whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re still evaluating all our options on this case,” Mills said.

Mills says the state has a larger issue to contend with:
“The underlying case has to do with the state seeking to quiet title to public trails in the 40-mile region,” said Mills. “And these trails go across both private and public land as well as the land of some two in particular Alaska Native allotments.”

Mills said the private land-owners in the area are okay with giving the state title to rights-or-way across their lands. She said the state is already in court over getting title for historic trails across federal lands.

“The important parts of the case and the crux of the case are really about these public trails as they go along federal land,” Mills said. “So the important issues are still really at the district court level. So we’re going to start…that case was stayed until this appeal occurred. So that’s going to keep going forward.”

The state has up to 60 days to decide whether to appeal the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling.