RESIDENTS OF THE WRANGELLS
PO Box MXY - #63B McCarthy
Glennallen, Alaska 99588
April 10, 2005
COMMENTS ON A USER’S GUIDE TO ACCESSING INHOLDINGS IN A NATIONAL PARK SERVICE AREA IN ALASKA
The draft document is based upon the flawed notion that Alaskan inholders must secure the right to access their properties. Section 1110(b) of ANILCA states “...the State or private owner or occupier shall be given by the Secretary such rights as may be necessary to assure adequate and feasible access for economic and other purposes.” Obtaining a permit forces residents to exchange their Congressional-mandated right to access for a privilege granted by the National Park Service (NPS) which may be revoked or subject to frequent renewals and crippling stipulations. We already have the right to access our properties; at question is how the NPS will recognize and document that right.
The draft incorrectly applies the nationwide permitting process to existing routes used by Alaskan inholders. Construction of new routes across undisturbed federal land may need to be assessed and permitted. However, rights-of-way currently in use to inholdings have been quietly accepted by NPS for 25 years. No attempt should be made to force these residents to now apply for their access. Their chosen route should be accepted by NPS and documented with a simple registration process rather than a permitting process. Simple requests for access by inholders on existing routes should be separated from applications for construction of large utility projects,
Restrictions on types of vehicles used, frequency and number of passes, seasonal use, ranger escorts, and maintenance represent a form of closure imposed before any resource damage is assessed. Any perceived damage should be discussed with residents to correct the situation before any type of stipulations are imposed. Closures should be made only after failure to reach a compromise with the resident, public meetings in the affected area and through normal NPS closure procedures. Residents should not be held responsible or punished for damages to their rights-of-way incurred by the general public.
Programmatic EAs should be used to classify and assess all existing access routes to inholdings, at NPS expense. This policy should be written into the draft document and applied to inholders in any Alaskan park, not just the Wrangell-St.Elias. Residents should not have to pay crippling EA costs on an individual basis, and NPS would face a daunting task preparing these EAs for all inholdings.
Annual access fees are inappropriate for all landowners within Alaskan NPS units. Director’s Order #53, in effect from 2000 to 2004, clearly states “...NPS will generally charge fees and recover costs for special use permits (and right-of-way permits) unless the use is protected by the First Amendment or involves a right rather than a privilege. A right is based upon property ownership, legislative entitlement or Constitutional guarantee.” Reference Manual 53 also states “Exemptions from charges is appropriate when...the requested use involves exercise of a right pertaining to water, property, minerals, access...” Our right to access is based upon both property ownership and legislative entitlement.
NPS agency regulations should be changed to provide an exception for Alaskan inholders and comply with ANILCA law. Monitoring fees should not be paid by residents since NPS budgets should contain funding for normal NPS oversight of parklands. ANILCA law gives the right to access “for economic and other purposes”; neither private nor commercial landowners should have to pay annual rental fees for their access.
Traditional use of motor vehicles and a certain amount of low-level maintenance should be allowed without a permit. According to ANILCA 1110(a), “Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the use of other methods of transportation for such travel and activities on conservation system lands where such use is permitted by this Act or other law.” Rights-of-way should be valid as long as parcels remain in non-federal ownership, for the landowners and their successors, without constant renewals every 10 years or whenever ownership changes. The ANILCA-given right to access should never be revocable, under any circumstances.
Based upon the preceding comments, the Residents of the Wrangells organization proposes the following procedure for documenting valid rights-of-way in NPS units:
1. Identify each inholder in WRST with an existing access road or trail.
2. Separate routes into several classes, based upon complexity.
3. Conduct a series of PEAs for each class at NPS expense.
4. Allow each inholder to obtain GPS coordinates for their access route, or have NPS land managers GPS the routes at NPS expense to document their locations.
5. Create a registration form which allows each landowner to provide the necessary information.
6. Give each landowner a document which certifies their valid access at no cost.
7. Allow the inholder’s chosen route.
8. Apply no restrictions or stipulations. If resource damage is perceived, work with the landowner in question to resolve their situation before stipulations are imposed.
9. Allow trail improvements by local volunteers to keep access routes open and repair closed traditional trails so that they may be reopened.
10. Avoid extreme and fanatical interpretation of the regulations to provide adequate and feasible access as mandated by ANILCA.
11. Comply with existing NPS regulations by declaring all existing routes to inholdings as “park-designated” or historic trails and roads, also meeting requirements for ATV and ORV trails to be used by the recreational public.
12. In lieu of the historic or park-designated status, use a Categorical Exclusion to eliminate the need for EAs, permits, and fees on existing access routes.
13. Impose no permitting requirements or fees for existing access routes in Alaskan parks.
14. Modify the draft and apply it to future construction of new rights-of-way across undisturbed federal land.
15. Allow the use of RS2477s and section line easements as valid existing rights which have been traditional access and are still used today.
16. Create a new draft document, based upon comments already received, schedule a new round of comment meetings, and extend the deadline for comments.
17. Allow inholders to participate in the draft revision process.
18. Create an advisory board or oversight committee to help in the registration process, resolve problems, and serve as an appeals body. Inholders should have other recourse besides a reconsideration by the Regional Director or suing in federal court.
For 25 years, residents have been maintaining and protecting their own access routes. We have been good stewards of the land without NPS assistance. Alaskan inholders should be allowed to continue to use their access in traditional ways, without permits or fees. WRST Superintendent Jed Davis should take a bold step to give peace of mind to all inholders by allowing us to live our lives without NPS interference or restrictions. Recognize that landowners represent an important asset and are valuable allies in protecting the resources of our parks. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this decision-making process to guarantee our access in the years to come.
Chairman, Residents of the Wrangells