PO Box MXY - #63B McCarthy
Glennallen, Alaska 99588

April 10, 2005

 Your comments are urgently needed to protect our right to continued access to our properties in the Wrangell - St. Elias National Park (WRST). The National Park Service (NPS) has released its draft of A User’s Guide to Accessing Inholdings in a National Park Service Area in Alaska. This guide was designed by NPS to clarify and set policy with respect to landowner access within Alaskan park units. A copy of the document may be downloaded at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/ . Select the link Plans/Documents Open for Comment at the lower left corner of the webpage, then select the Draft User’s Guide from the Plan/Document List. A copy of the draft may also be obtained by writing to Regional Director Marcia Blaszak, National Park Service, 240 W. 5th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, or by calling (907) 644-3539.

Comments on the draft will be accepted from the general public on the NPS web page or by writing to the above address until May 13, 2005. We would like to stress the importance of your comments in this review process since the draft, as written, mandates the use of permits, fees, and new stipulations which, we feel, create a burdensome and unworkable system for all landowners.

Public comment meetings were held in March in Anchorage, McCarthy, Slana and Fairbanks. The vast majority of residents attending the McCarthy and Slana meetings objected strongly to the idea of requiring permits and fees for inholders, especially those using routes in existence in 1980 when the park was established.

The draft cover letter states, “The draft describes how landowners and valid occupants can secure rights under Section 1110(b) of ANILCA.” However, landowners were already given the right to reach their property by Congress in the 1980 legislation. Acquisition of permits from NPS essentially forces landowners to give up their right to access in exchange for a privilege, controlled by NPS and subject to renewals, revocation, fees, and cumbersome stipulations without a valid appeals process. Restrictions on types of vehicles used, frequency and number of passes, seasonal use, ranger escorts, and maintenance accompany the permitting process. These restrictions represent a new form of closure without findings of damage. The draft suggests that any type of vehicle use or maintenance would require a permit.

The Residents of the Wrangells (ROW) organization holds the position that any roads, trails or easements currently used by residents to reach their property should not require permits or fees. A simple registration process should instead be used to document each landowner’s access. NPS’s failure to implement permitting procedures between 1980 and the present represents a “quiet acceptance” of routes already in use. Construction of new routes over undisturbed land in the future are a different circumstance which may require the usual NPS assessment and permitting processes.
NPS Deputy Regional Director Victor Knox has suggested the use of a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) to fulfill National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) requirements for rights-of-way in use today. This PEA would group and assess a number of trails and roads with minimal impact at NPS expense, eliminating costly EAs for individual landowners. This is a novel idea and should be used for all routes in existence, establishing several classes of routes, based upon their complexity. However, this PEA is glaringly absent from the draft document.

 Agency regulations relating to fees should be changed to make exceptions for Alaskan inholders. The current draft proposes annual rental fees for commercial properties based upon the amount of NPS land crossed by their rights-of-way. They have suggested waiving annual fees for private property owners. Since ANILCA clearly states that landowners have the right to access for “economic and other purposes,” any annual fee is inappropriate. NPS even proposes permit application fees and monitoring fees to be paid by residents to oversee the use of our routes in the future. This oversight process should be included in the annual NPS budget as a part of their regular duties, and should not be paid by residents.

The draft clearly states that all RS2477 rights-of-way and section line easements are not valid, recognized routes to inholdings. However, any property abutting a state right-of-way or “park-designated” road requires no permit. We suggest that current NPS policy would allow WRST Superintendent Jed Davis to declare all inholder access routes park-designated. This declaration would also provide much needed public trails which, by mandate, should be available for vehicle use in NPS units. Or, a Categorical Exclusion could be applied, as suggested by Governor Frank Murkowski, to waive NEPA requirements and eliminate the need for permits and fees.

Superintendent Davis expressed a desire to work with residents to change the draft and negotiate a procedure that will both meet our needs and abide by NPS regulations. Many residents at the local meetings requested a revision of the draft, based upon the comments received, with a new series of local meetings before a final draft is prepared by NPS, with which we must comply. Some suggested that inholders be allowed to help in the draft rewrite process. The governor suggested the creation of an oversight committee to deal with ANILCA-related issues, rather than the NPS proposal that appeals only be in the form of a reconsideration by the Regional Director or lawsuits filed in federal court.

For 25 years, residents have been good stewards of their rights-of-way in WRST. We have maintained our routes carefully to protect resources and our precious access. Now is the time to make our position known to NPS and protect our traditional routes and means of travel without illegal fees or permits crippled with stipulations. Please take the time to read the draft document and make your comments before the May 13th deadline to preserve our way of life in WRST. Thank you.

Susan Smith
Chairman, Residents of the Wrangells