Withdrawal of Russian River parcel sought

Hearing slated for land issue

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002

A proposal by the U. S. Forest Service to withdraw land along the Russian River from possible mining is pitting a Cooper Landing man against the U.S. government.

The land in question is a 2,998-acre corridor along the Russian River, stretching from Lower Russian Lake to Upper Russian Lake. The Forest Service says the area is more valuable to the public as a recreational area than as a mine.

"The area isn't marketable. ... It's hardly locatable," said Carol Huber, a minerals specialist with the Forest Service.

Huber said small travertine deposits exist in the area, but a Forest Service examination in the mid-1980s revealed no commercial use was feasible. Travertine is a calcite that accumulates in deposits in ground or surface water. It is commonly known as limestone.

Sherman "Red" Smith of Cooper Landing thinks the area can be profitable. He says the Forest Service's finding is invalid anyway.

"If they can say that about travertine, why not gold?" Smith asked. He believes the area could be profitable for producing lime or possibly other commercially viable minerals.

Smith thinks the government is just trying to squeeze him out of the area in order to secure greater control of the land.

"(The federal government's) underlying motivation is to give them absolute control of the transportation corridor," said Smith from his Cooper Landing home.

"Ever since the feds decided to manage Alaska, they've tried to lock up the transportation corridors. Every time they see the opportunity for development, they try to lock up the land," he said.

The public will get a chance to weigh in on the U.S. Forest Service proposal to remove 2,998 acres of land from mineral location. The Forest Service has planned open houses for 7 p.m. Monday in Anchorage and Tuesday in Soldotna at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building. Information on the various uses of the land in question will be distributed and discussed.

Huber said the issue is one strictly of the land's value to the public.

"It's no value (for mining) versus excellent values for habitat, archaeology, fisheries and recreation," said Huber.

"There's already a withdrawal in place that covers from the campground up to Lower Russian Lake. What this does is takes it up to Upper Russian Lake. The other side of the river is already off limits to mining," she said, referring to the boundary between the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which runs down the middle of the Russian River.

"We just can't let him mine up there. It's a no-brainer," she said.

Smith thinks the state of Alaska should step in and help him. He said the state could do more to protect his rights, but isn't because his is a politically unpopular case.

"The governor could stop this real easily. Either U.S. Senator could kill it. The problem is that the politicians barter our rights for votes. They use people like me as an emotional stimulus and ignore the law," Smith said.

Huber gives Smith credit for his doggedness in fighting the Forest Service, but, ultimately, the government will prevail, she said.

"He's incredibly persistent. We just disagree," she said, adding that she believes the withdrawal is basically a "done deal."

The Bureau of Land Management must give final approval for the Forest Service proposal to go into effect.

Although the government might be close to forcing him out of mining in the area, Smith said, he's still going to fight what he believes is a continuing abuse of the govern-ment's power.

"I'm going to put the government on notice. If they can write self-serving statutes that violate the laws, I'm going to fight them," he said.

Huber said that archaeologists, fisheries and mineral specialists from the Forest Service will provide the public with information on the land slated for withdrawal at the two open houses. She said public comment also will be taken.

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