Mendenhall Lake
Mendenhall Lake in Juneau on November 6, 2021 (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

A week before Election Day, the state of Alaska sued the federal government for ownership of some of Alaska’s most visited tourist destinations.

Submitted on Tuesday In the U.S. District Court in Anchorage, the lawsuit asks a federal judge to grant the state ownership of the land below Mendenhall Lake and the Mendenhall River. Located in Juneau’s residential Mendenhall Valley, the lake sits at the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier within the Tongass National Forest and is viewed by more than 700,000 visitors annually.

The lake is now under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, and a successful lawsuit could make a big difference. For example, motorboats and (in winter) snowplows are prohibited from the lake.

The state has no ban, and earlier this year Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed that the state legally protect those who use electric vehicles in the area.

The Forest Service is also planning. major expansion of site visitor facilities. It was not immediately clear whether the expansion would be delayed by lawsuits.

Erica Keane, the Forest Service’s spokesperson for the Alaska region, said officials could not comment on the topic under litigation and that the federal government would respond to the lawsuit in court.

State officials who announced the lawsuit by email said it was part of a broader campaign by Dunleavy. filed a similar lawsuit Earlier this year on the waterways of Clark Lake National Park and Preserve. Another lawsuit was filed in October 2021.

a wider campaign announced as “Unlocking Alaska” In 2021, it’s a multi-million dollar effort to claim state ownership of areas currently under federal control.

Critics, including some of Dunleavy’s opponents in this year’s election, say the campaign amounts to state-paid grandstanding Ahead of this year’s vote.

the former governor instructed Similar case, including the Chena River that flows through downtown Fairbanks. The country won the lawsuit.

Tuesday’s lawsuit is the first involving a major city river in the Unlocking Alaska campaign.

Environmental groups have expressed concerns about the initiative.administrative officer said in 2021 The state plans to accelerate its progress by seeking ownership of the river bed along the route of the proposed Ambler Road and other development projects.

An official with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council did not immediately comment on this week’s lawsuit.

Unanimous 2019 U.S. Supreme Court Decision Despite recognizing Alaska’s right to control navigable waterways, federal and state governments continue to disagree on the definition of navigability.

Tuesday’s lawsuit, and lawsuits prior to it, are based on that definition.

If a river or lake was navigable upon statehood in 1959, title to the land beneath it should have been transferred to state control unless it had already been transferred to another owner.

In Tuesday’s lawsuit, the state ruled that both the Mendenhall River and Lake have not been improved to allow for better transportation since statehood and are navigable today, so “wood and skin boats, logs and inflatable rafts, power and jet aircraft.” For boats providing personal and material transportation, and for canoeing, subsistence and recreational guided and unguided hunting and fishing activities, they should be considered navigable.

The lawsuit also argues that the court should rule on the entire lake, including the portion that remains under the glacier, even though the adjacent glacier has retreated and the lake’s exposure has increased since it became a state. Glaciers are expected to melt beyond the edge of the lake by 2050.

The federal government has not yet responded to the lawsuit, but the October 2021 lawsuit covering parts of the Koyukuk River and two tributaries said: tried to drop the lawsuitpartly because the river was not navigable when it became a state.

Judge Sharon Gleeson was denied Most of the August 16th federal sacking requests are for all but a small portion of the river that flows through the Indigenous quota.

That case remains unsolved, along with a case dealing with Lake Clark and a new case filed Tuesday.

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