Bill disputes fee to dipnet Copper River salmon in Chitina

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The majority leader in the House has introduced a bill that would do away with the $25 fee to dipnet salmon in the Copper River at Chitina.

John Coghill, R-North Pole, argues that a recent survey of the area has shown that the state shouldn't have to pay fees to local Native corporations to ensure river access, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The reason for having the fee to begin with was they were charging them a trespass fee,'' Coghill said. People kept purporting that there was state access; it just never got checked out.''

The dispute over right-of-way access to dipnetting spots at Chitina began two decades ago. The local Native corporations have long claimed the state has no right-of-way access to the Copper River at Chitina.

But the Alaska Superior Court ruled in 1992 that there is a 300-foot right-of-way open to public use along the route of the long-defunct Copper River Railroad, which parallels the river.

With no legal survey to establish the exact right-of-way, the dispute persisted. Then a 2001 survey by the Department of Transportation determined that more than three miles of the five-mile road is within the state right-of-way.

Using the results of that study, Coghill has proposed dropping the fee. He also wants a map prepared indicating which areas are open to the public.

The fee originally was $10 a year and was raised to $25 a year in 2000. The state sold about 6,800 permits in 2002, resulting in about $170,000 in state income. Of the $25 per pass, $18 goes to the Native corporations, $5 is for garbage collection and upkeep of the Chitina area and $2 goes to the state to pay for issuing permits.

The change would mean a significant portion of the area currently used for fishing would not be open to the public, and Coghill said it would be up to the Native corporations whether they want to charge their own fees for gaining access in those areas, which include the entire east side of the Copper River.

Were Coghill's bill to become law, the state would still have to come up with around $47,600 a year to cover the costs of the permitting and upkeep of the area currently covered by $7 of the $25 fee.

Coghill said he wouldn't support the bill costing the state more money and wants to get more information about the cost.

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