Gov. Dunleavy asserts state control over Alaskan waters

(Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)
(Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)(Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)
Published: Mar. 27, 2021 at 12:58 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On Friday, March 26th, Governor Mike Dunleavy sent a letter to President Joe Biden expressing his intent to have Alaska manage 800,000 miles of rivers and 30 million acres of lakes in the state that are currently under federal control.

A press release the same day stated, “After 62 years of federal delay and obstruction, the State of Alaska is asserting its management rights over the vast network of navigable waters and submerged lands it received at statehood and will move aggressively to promote their use and enjoyment to serve the interests of the Alaska people.”

In the same release, Dunleavy said, “Alaska’s destiny lies in full ownership of and access to our natural resources.”

According to Dunleavy, this move is the first step in a process he calls “Unlocking Alaska.” This is “an initiative that I will continue to advance in the coming months. My administration will not rest until Alaska has achieved the foundational promises of statehood, and every Alaskan is granted unfettered access to our lands and waters,” Dunleavy said.

The release based the legal right of Alaska to control the waters and submerged land in question on three precedents.

First is the 1959 Alaska Statehood Act, which purportedly provided for the state to have ownership of submerged land beneath certain rivers and lakes

Second is the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which, according to the release, was limited in its assertion of federal regulation.

Third is the case of John Sturgeon, who won a Supreme Court Case regarding use of federal lands in 2019.

The letter acknowledged that many of the submerged lands pass through federal lands, including National Parks, National Forests, and National Wildlife Refuges. It urges Biden to establish a process for quickly and voluntarily transferring titles of certain waters to the state.

My administration is ready to work with you to develop a framework for fast and efficient recognition by the Federal government that the State has title to submerged lands,” the letter stated, adding, “This is an opportunity for us, as public servants, to set a new tone together on a longstanding and difficult issue.”

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