BLM pursuing Beaver Creek buyouts

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The federal Bureau of Land Management hopes to buy out private property owners along Beaver Creek, which was designated as a ''national wild and scenic river'' by Congress in 1980s.

With the help of Sen. Ted Stevens, the agency obtained $300,000 from Congress last fall to fund the buy-outs. The agency has asked for another $700,000 next year.

However, some of the property owners say they aren't interested in selling.

Three of the four private properties along Beaver Creek are owned by Fairbanks residents. Ford dealer Ralph Seekins and Native leader Sam Demientieff each own a piece, and dentists Fred Bast and Walt Babula own another, according to interviews and property records.

A fourth piece is held by a partnership involving New York attorney Jonathan Blattmachr and his brother Douglas, who lives in Anchorage.

The parcels held by Seekins, Bast and Babula and the Blattmachrs moved into private ownership starting in the 1950s and '60s, a time when people could file ''trade and manufacturing'' claims on virtually any unreserved federal land from which they were making a living.

Demientieff's land is a Native allotment that he claimed just before the allotment program ended in 1971.

The Beaver Creek properties are all on the river's banks, where people floating the scenic river can see them. Each summer, about 400 people make the float, which can take anywhere from five days to two weeks, depending on where the trip ends.

Seekins, the Blattmachrs and Bast and Babula each have cabins on their property that were built by the trappers and hunters who originally filed on the land.

Seekins' cabin is at the mouth of Fossil Creek. He bought the five acres from Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash. The original owners, hunting guide Leroy Shebal and his wife Jane of North Pole, gave it to the college in the early 1990s to create a scholarship fund for Fairbanks students.

Blattmachr, the New York attorney, owns 18 acres at the confluence with Victoria Creek. The land was originally claimed by Fairbanks guide Keith Koontz. Koontz and his family lived on the river for several years from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, when he traded the property to Kenneth Miller, now of Anchorage, for an airplane.

Miller and his family also lived on the land through the 1980s, and he said he sold it for $175,000 to the Blattmachr partnership in 1993.

The Blattmachrs filed a subdivision plat breaking the property into nine two-acre lots, but have not sold any.

The Basts and Babulas have 63 acres about five miles upstream from Seekins' property. The land was originally owned by Herman ''the German'' Bucholz, who hunted and trapped in the area for much of the mid-part of the last century. The Basts and Babulas also filed a subdivision plat with the state recorder's office, breaking the land into 27 lots. None have been sold.

Demientieff's property, the largest at 80 acres, has no cabin. The land sits at the ''big bend'' where Beaver Creek abruptly shifts its direction from westward to northeastward. Demientieff filed for the Native allotment in 1971, but didn't get full title until 1989.

Despite the government's interest, it has no power to condemn the land, said Susan Will, associate field manager in Fairbanks. All it can do is ask for willing sellers.

''This is an ongoing process and will continue to be until we acquire all the properties,'' DuPont said.

That could take awhile judging by what a few property owners said in interviews over the past two weeks.

''I'm not trying to sell it, nor do I know that they're trying to buy me out,'' Seekins said. ''No one has made me an offer.''

Demientieff, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Fairbanks, said he doesn't want to sell either. ''The main reason I applied and got the land was I was interested in it,'' he said.

Jonathan Blattmachr, contacted in New York, said members of his partnership might be interested in selling or trading for other land.

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