CHICKALOON — A landowner’s attempts to re-route traffic raises land use questions and has turned into a struggle between him and the state.
Charles Lone Wolf said the trees he put down across East Chickaloon Branch Road, the road that accesses his property, aren’t an attempt to block use of the road.
“I didn’t block it. What I did was I detoured traffic through my circular driveway to slow it down from about 25 to 30 miles an hour to five miles an hour,” Lone Wolf said.
The road has seen very little traffic most of the time he’s lived there, he said. But when Riversdale Alaska LLC, bought coal leases and began exploration work on a nearby parcel, the company asked Lone Wolf and his neighbors if it could use the road.
Everyone said yes. Lone Wolf said he tries to stay out of the coal mining debate, but is of the opinion it’s a moot point. He said the coal is buried very deeply on his land and even deeper on his neighbor’s land. He doesn’t think there’s much chance coal will be close enough to the surface to be profitable for Riversdale.
“There’s a less than 1 in 10 chance of them finding any kind of a vein that’s marketable,” he said.
His roommate, Kim McIntosh, emphasized that they were attempting to remain above the coal debate.
“We were just two people trying to mind our own business and stay neutral,” she said.
But, she said the trucks moving along the road at higher speeds than normal traffic there caused worry.
“We just want safety for our children and our dogs and all the other critters that run around this place,” she said.
So Lone Wolf put up signs, blocked the road, and sent traffic through his driveway and back onto the road. He said he was pretty sure he could do that because the road doesn’t show up on the title to his land and doesn’t show up on any of the documents he’s managed to obtain. He’s pretty sure it’s a private road.
Enter the state of Alaska.
“The Department of Natural Resources received reports beginning on 6/25/2012 stating that Mr. Lone Wolf had blocked the East Chickaloon Branch Road on 6/23/2012. The Department of Natural Resources asserts that the route across Mr. Lone Wolf’s property is in fact a valid public right-of-way, granted and accepted under Revised Statute 2477 of former 43 U.S.C. 932,” Clark Cox, Natural Resource Manager with the Alaska Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Mining, Land & Water, wrote in an e-mail response to Frontiersman inquiries.
And Lone Wolf said he also received a hand-delivered letter from DNR via Alaska State Troopers asserting the same.
In layman’s terms, the state says it took over the right of way from the federal government.
But did it? Lone Wolf said if there was a road there before homesteading began in the area he hasn’t found record of it.
The state has told him it might be part of the old Chickaloon Trail but he’s pretty sure it’s not, that the trail ran on the other side of his property. He said the state also pointed him to a 1916 document showing an old wagon trail crossing the property.
He said vegetation in Alaska tends to reclaim trails in about 10 years. The state took over trails in the area multiple decades later. So by then, Lone Wolf contends, the wagon road would have been obliterated. There would have been nothing for the state to take over.
Of course, all of this is almost beside the point. Lone Wolf said that when he bought the property the right of way didn’t show up on his title.
“We rely upon these title companies. We rely upon a reasonableness from everybody,” he said.
And he said he just doesn’t feel he’s getting that.
He’s positive the road is a private one, put in by the first people to homestead the area. He said he did a lot of work upgrading it, bringing in gravel and filling in what was little more than a mud hole when he arrived.
As such, Lone Wolf said he should be able to do what he wants with it. And what he wants isn’t to close the road or keep anybody out. He just wants drivers to slow down.
But the state disagrees. And it all kind of hinges on the question of whether it’s a public road. Cox seemed to imply as much in his e-mail.
“Once granted and accepted, these rights-of-way do not expire. Under Alaska Statute 19.30.410 the state may not vacate a right-of-way acquired by the state under former 43 U.S.C. 932,” he wrote.
Which is to say, if the road is indeed a public road, the state is required to do what it is doing now, which is to keep someone like Lone Wolf from encroaching on it with his roadblock/detour. The only way to vacate one of those rights of way would be if some reasonable and comparable alternative route were built, if a municipality asked that the right of way be vacated or if the state legislature approved the vacation.
Cox wrote that there is a petition process Lone Wolf could engage in.
“In keeping with DNR’s responsibility to protect the right to public access, the petitioning landowner must demonstrate that equal or better public access is available through an alternate means in accordance with regulations. Unless and until such a petition is approved and finalized, the existing route remains a valid right-of-way for public access,” he wrote.
Lone Wolf said there’s another option. He could take his gravel back and restore the road to its mud hole state.
He said he sees bigger implications for this, though. If the state is asserting it has a right of way there based on a 1912 trail that served a community that no longer exists, what’s to say the same can’t be done in other places? How about Susitna Landing, which was a bustling community before disease wiped it out? The Valley and Alaska are rife with erstwhile communities.
“If they’re going to resurrect these ghost communities and ghost plats, that poses a threat to the legal title process throughout the state,” he said.
Though DNR was asked specifically, Cox’s e-mail did not contain a response to that question.
Contact reporter Andrew Wellner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-2270.