Bob Oakes said he was in a bad mood when he attended a meeting between the Alaska Department of Transportation and owners of property bordering the Sterling Highway last Thursday.
A few days earlier, Oakes received a letter from the DOT inviting him to the meeting, which regarded the identification and removal of encroachments on state rights of way along the highway his business, CBC Rental & Supply, borders.
Oakes interpreted the letter to mean the sign advertising his business was illegal because it was on the state right of way and that he would have to relocate it.
“I still don’t have any idea,” he said regarding the letter. “They still say that I am in their right of way, but I know for a fact that I’m not. The stakes are there.”
Oakes was one of about 20 stakeholders who attended the meeting and provided DOT employees and Dryden & LaRue, Inc. — a private company contracting with DOT — with feedback about their issues and thoughts on the similar letters they had also received.
The DOT is seeking to mitigate right of way encroachments due to a recent highway re-paving project between mileposts 90 and 82.
That project is being funded with federal money and therefore DOT has “certain obligations,” including enforcement of the less-than-often enforced right of way laws, DOT spokesman Rick Feller said.
“I want them to come and do meetings, but I came here in a reactive state and I don’t like to do that,” Oakes said. “I’ve tried to do everything right.”
Oakes and other business owners were concerned about some of the language in the information they received, and also why the stretch of highway was being singled out while others go unenforced.
“I think we mistook a lot of things because of certain words and they way they were written in this,” he said.
“This paper addresses other people advertising on your property,” he continued. “Why would you send me a letter with this attached to it when this has nothing to do with me? They should have had something with what my problem is and with the regulations for my sign.”
Oakes also took issue with the fact that if a sign was indeed in the right of way and an owner refused to move it, the state has the authority to move it and then bill the business owner.
“If people (put their sign up) in good faith, I don’t think people should have to do it,” he said of others being forced to move their signs, albeit a matter of inches. “We wrote the laws. All of these statutes were written by us, by the state and they can be changed and they should be … to meet the needs of the people.”
Manny Lopez, a Dryden & LaRue employee, said the meeting was to get to the root of the problems with the mitigation efforts.
A variety of issues were discussed at the meeting including political signs, landscaping, four-wheelers, outdoor advertising and business signs, Lopez said, adding the comments would be delivered to the DOT.
“What they do with them at that point is up to them, but we gathered some very powerful, and some very good comments and I think the DOT, it’ll serve them well for future uses in determining what they are going to do,” he said.
Mike Kunz, owner of Mike’s Welding located at Milepost 82 on the highway, was less than impressed with the meeting.
“It’s the usual government go-around you get from government officials,” he said. “That’s what it all boils down to.”
Knuz said it was unfair for the DOT to enforce just one section of the highway.
“It should be enforced on everybody if it is going to enforced at all,” he said. “Extreme cases should be enforced but in the case of these little six inch ones and all this stuff. There should be leeway and latitude and that’s the problem with government regulations — there’s no leeway, no nothing.”
Jill Reese, DOT project manager, attended the meeting and said good information was the key to keeping a healthy relationship between the property owners and her department.
“It is hard sometimes to be the messenger, but we’re trying to do our best ... to represent and steward the public’s interest and sometimes that’s not easy when it tramples on individuals’ ideas of what they need to be doing or what they would like to be doing,” she said.
Reese added that property owners across the state “absolutely should” start preparing to move their signs and other right of way encroachments back “be done with it” before the DOT comes knocking.
“Definitely if they put something in the right of way and a project comes through we are going to be asking them to move it,” she said.