Box MXY - McCarthy #63B
Glennallen, Alaska 99588

*** ROW ALERT ***
April 5, 2006

 The second draft of A User’s Guide to Accessing Inholdings in a National Park area in Alaska was released on March 27, 2006. A copy of the document may be downloaded at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/. Select the link Plans/Documents Open for Comment, 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 address above until May 27, 2006. The NPS will address comments through a series of public meetings next month:
May 3  -  McCarthy 12 noon Community Church
May 4  - Slana  6:30 p.m. Slana School
May 11-  Anchorage 3-5 p.m. AK Public Lands Information Center, 605 W. 4th Avenue

Compilation of the second draft took longer than anticipated after WRST Superintendent Jed Davis was diagnosed with liver cancer last fall. Sadly, he passed away on April 3. A memorial service will be held in his honor on Saturday, April 15 at 1:00 p.m. at the Copper Center Park Headquarters Visitor Center. The Residents of the Wrangells organization recognizes and appreciates his tireless efforts on our behalf and we are grateful for the change in momentum he brought to NPS in our park. He will be sorely missed. Will Tipton, former Facilities Manager, has been appointed Acting Superintendent and Marshall Neeck has been named Chief Ranger.

Two weeks ago, Superintendent Davis invited a few of us to his home to meet with him and discuss the changes he worked so hard to achieve on this second draft. He told us last fall that he was supporting no permits, no fees or environmental assessments paid by the landowner, and a document attached to the land in perpetuity to guarantee each parcel’s access. Unfortunately, lawyers for the Department of the Interior’s Solicitor’s Office took a hard line on granting our concessions. It is their goal to make Alaska’s situation mesh into current regulations. The second draft, disappointingly, falls short of our expectations.

According to draft two, all Alaskan inholders will be required to obtain a permit for access by filling out the long application form designed for large transportation and utility systems. NPS proposes an extension of the permit term from 10 to “up to” 30 years. Permits will be attached to the landowner, not the land itself. They are transferable with written approval of the superintendent. NPS “expects to renew” permits if access conditions remain the same.  Vehicle type, number of passes, and frequency of use will be specified. Permits include conditions to protect park users, purposes and resources. They can also be revoked for NPS-perceived violations of terms and conditions, or modified with new restrictions at any time.

The NPS Alaska Region agrees that “requests for right-of-way permits to inholdings which require an environmental assessment (EA) will have application, EA, processing, monitoring and rental fees waived.” However, this waiver is a policy set at the discretion of each new administration. No new rulemaking clarifies that fees are inappropriate under ANILCA law. Most permit applications for access are expected by the NPS to require an EA.

 A programmatic EA (PEA)  is being proposed to evaluate “numerous existing routes with relevant similarities” to satisfy NEPA requirements, at NPS expense. Fees will not be waived for more complex routes which require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS); residents will have to negotiate their fees with NPS. Also, the draft claims it will use the PEA “for those landowners who have access to their property as of January 1, 2006.” The draft is confusing about future requests for access.

Any maintenance on existing routes would have to be authorized by NPS on a case by case basis. Clearing of brush or dead falls and filling of potholes would have to be specified as conditions of each permit.

Unfortunately, too little of this draft is set in stone, too many issues were not addressed, and too much is left at the discretion of the administration in power. We have already seen the results of a hard-line administration in our park. No details specify the conditions which determine if an access route will fall under the PEA, need a separate EA, or a more complicated EIS. No regulations have been changed to permanently eliminate fees. No simple registration process has been developed to recognize historical routes and provide a document permanently attached to the land. Categorical exclusions or historical use trail designations have never been considered to recognize Alaska’s unique rights under ANILCA and eliminate the need for EAs and fees. No minimal maintenance activities are outlined for all routes. No oversight body was created to consider appeals. And very few of our original concerns were addressed.

Our goal is to settle the access issue now with permanent rulemaking changes rather than temporary policies that may come back to haunt us or our heirs in the years to come.
NPS has interpreted the permitting system and NEPA requirements to the extreme in a situation where we already have the irrevokable right to get to our homes across their land. Signing the permit application document binds us and future generations into a permanent agreement with NPS with them in complete control. Please take the time to read a copy of the draft and attend comment meetings in your area. Then submit a comment to NPS by May 27 with your suggestions. We still have some hard work ahead of us.

Susan Smith
Chairman, Residents of the Wrangells

P.S.  Thanks to your generous support, we have funds to continue our work for the present. We will ask you again for membership dues when we need them, and we will continue to keep you on our mailing list.