RESIDENTS OF THE WRANGELLS
PO Box MXY - 63B McCarthy
Glennallen, AK 99588
MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN
June 15, 2004
Dear ROW Members, Neighbors, and Friends,
We would like to thank all of you for your support and input during our membership outreach and information gathering programs during the last year. I am happy to report that we are starting to see some real progress in our attempt to solve National Park Service (NPS) problems within the Wrangell - St. Elias Park (WRST).
On November 6, 2003, members of ROW were invited to meet in Anchorage with Congressional aides, land rights representatives, and (by teleconference) Washington, D.C. staffers. We were given the opportunity to voice our concerns over NPS abuses in the WRST and to cite instances of inappropriate behavior. We were asked to acquire testimonials from residents and users of the Park who were experiencing problems, and then forward the information to their Congressional offices.
ROW held meetings in Glennallen (10/25/03, 12/6/03), McCarthy (6/5/03, 6/19/03, 10/26/03, 12/11/03), and Slana (1/23/04) to establish membership and talk about the issues. Many of you came forward to tell your stories and to fill out our NPS Land Use Questionnaire. A packet of testimonials and questionnaires was compiled, along with some NPS correspondence and several pertinent newspaper articles. A map was included to show the location of the areas in contention. These packets were mailed in early March of 2004 to our entire Congressional delegation and their aides, Governor Frank Murkowski, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, other Department of the Interior officials, the heads of several Congressional committees, and land rights advocates. Due to enhanced governmental mail screening measures, our packets were received in Washington in early April. ROW members anxiously awaited any feedback the information might generate.
On April 15,2004, Governor Murkowski responded with a three-page letter to Secretary Norton, asking her to launch an investigation into allegations that NPS has shown “...various patterns of misbehavior and abuse, including unreasonable right-of-way closures and restrictions; undue delays in the issuance of permits; and intimidation, harassment, and selective law enforcement...” in the WRST. He calls for further direction to NPS personnel in administering the ANILCA access provisions, stating “If these reports of arbitrary and sometimes abusive behavior are accurate, they raise serious questions about the Park Service’s implementation of ANILCA...”. The governor also requested:
- Notification by NPS of when and what access is required.
- A standardized procedure for access to inholdings.
- Time limits for applications.
- A NEPA ‘de minimus Categorical Exclusion’ for inholders.
- Guidance with respect to reasonable access.
- A presumption in favor of the applicant’s chosen route.
- An appeals process with the formation of an oversight group in Alaska.
- Minimal or no fees for inholdings.
- A requirement that prior notice be given to residents before NPS visits to private property or low-level aircraft overflights.
This was a bold step taken on behalf of all Alaskans and we are grateful to Governor Murkowski for his strong support. Senator Ted Stevens sent a response to ROW on April 28, thanking us for the information packet and informing us that his staff has contacted NPS in an effort to resolve some of the issues.
About the same time, ROW worked jointly with Paula Easley and the Alaska Land Rights Coalition to circulate a petition demanding that the state intervene to help residents and users of WRST to protect their ANILCA rights. Another petition was circulated to protest the Doug Frederick court ruling; many citizens stepped forward to pay his fine in a showing of community support.
On April 28, the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior wrote to ROW claiming that a review of our packet information “...failed to specifically identify or provide substantive information or circumstances which would necessitate an investigation by this office.” He is referring the matter back to NPS for “appropriate action” on their part. We didn’t exactly expect them to jump at the opportunity, but we expect further comment from the Department of the Interior in response to the governor’s letter.
The state Republican Convention was held on May 27 in Soldotna. A resolution was adopted to call upon our state representatives to come forward and help all Alaskans defend their ANILCA rights. Another resolution was passed to urge our representatives to block passage of the Get Outdoors Act (HR 4100) which would provide billions of dollars annually for fifteen years, in unappropriated funding, to purchase inholdings in conservation units, sanction further condemnations of private property , and enhance the powers of the Endangered Species Act, all under the guise of curing obesity!. For more information about this dangerous bill, go to the American Land Rights Association website at http://www.landrights.org. We encourage you to write or e-mail our Congressional delegation to voice your opposition to this legislation. Also, check out related issues in the McCarthy area at http://www.mccarthy-kennicott.com.
On May 28, Senator Lisa Murkowski appeared on the Valdez KCHU “Coffee Break” program and I had an opportunity to call in and speak with her. She strongly supported all Alaskans’ right to their ANILCA-given access provisions. Two subsequent e-mails from her office noted that she has spoken to Secretary Norton about the ROW packet, and her office is seeking further information at this time with respect to our highest-priority situations.
Superintendent Gary Candelaria is being transferred this month out of the WRST. NPS Acting Regional Director Marcia Blaszak has issued an invitation to ROW members to meet with her at the Kennicott Rec Hall on July 2, from 10 a.m. until noon, to discuss their search for a new superintendent and to talk about current activities as they relate to our mission statement. We look forward to that opportunity and hope many of you will join us.
Congressman Don Young will be sending one of his staff members to the area in August to
hear our grievances and report back. ROW is planning a presentation for him at that time; your comments and suggestions will be appreciated.
Anchorage attorney J.P. Tangen, on behalf of the Pilgrim family, applied to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for permission to use the McCarthy-Green Butte trail (RST 135) to make improvements to, and maximize the use of, this right-of-way. That permission was granted by Sam Means, DNR Natural Resource Manager, on June 9; his letter authorizes “...removing of overburden and underbrush, and performing other incidental improvements on the state’s right-of-way to provide reasonable access to your client’s property.” The letter also calls for caution in staying within the 100-foot right-of-way (unsurveyed in some areas), notification of the NPS before work begins (since they do not recognize the state’s claim to the route), and notification of owners of other parcels crossed by the trail.
Of great concern to us is a very recent attempt to obtain private funding for the purchase of the Hart D Ranch, MP 0.5 Nabesna Road, for a new park visitor center/employee housing facility. NPS wishes to intercept all tourists as they enter the state and use the site to feature all of Alaska’s National Parks. This after $7.6 million was just spent on the Copper Center Park Headquarters complex only 85 miles away! This purchase would expand the size of WRST because it lies outside of the park! The literature even states that the sale would “...make other lands outside of the boundary available.” We must stop this attempt to even further increase the acreage of our park with a veiled solicitation of private and trust funding to avoid the Congressional appropriations process.
Also, we have received word that DNR has recently transferred lands to the Ahtna Corporation without right-of-way encumbrances to protect traditional access to, among other areas, Mentasta Lake and the Eagle Historical Site trail. Reportedly, Ahtna has closed all access routes across their lands because neither the Department of the Interior nor Ahtna recognizes their legality. A May 26 meeting in Slana was called by BLM as a public review of management alternatives in the region; however, no public comment was actually sought since the transfer had already occurred.
In one year’s time, ROW has achieved many of our goals. We have established a substantial membership list and we have networked with many of you in the community. Our entire Congressional delegation and governor are aware of our situation and speaking on our behalf with the Department of the Interior. Many trail postings have been changed to more clearly allow for subsistence use. We have strong alliances with the American Land Rights Association, Alaska Land Rights Coalition, Pacific Legal Foundation, and Slana Alaskans Unite. The NPS has removed Gary Candelaria as Superintendent of the Park. Through the internet and press coverage, our stories in the WRST are being read across the country. Our collective voice is being heard!
Environmental groups are fighting even harder now to buy inholdings in our park and to force NPS to restrict or deny our access. The battle is far from over. Advocates of viewshed restrictions, light pollution, noise pollution, wilderness protection, national parks free of human habitation, and expansion of conservation units through unlimited purchases of private land are gaining momentum, backed by vast financial resources. However, no national special interest group should be allowed to have the power to deny Alaskans what Congress insisted on protecting by law in 1980; the preservation of a truly unique Alaskan bush community which delights and amazes visitors to our area just as much as the landscape, flora, and fauna.
Feel free to contact us at any time about your issues in the WRST. We are continuing to collect testimonials to keep our legislators informed of your problems and to work toward solutions. Thank you for your continued interest and support!