House measure would repeal Chitina dipnet fee

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Dipnetting at Chitina shouldn't mean a dip into your wallet, the state House has concluded.

The House voted 31-4 Monday to repeal the $25 fee to dipnet in the Copper River at Chitina. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Most of the money raised by the Chitina fee goes to the Chitina and Ahtna Native corporations, which have been involved in a long-running dispute over whether Copper River dipnetters trespass on their land.

In 1992, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that users had access to the river through a 300-foot-wide state right of way. But with no official survey to delineate exactly where the public has access, the state has been paying the corporations a fee to settle the dispute. That money has come from the fee charged users.

In 2001, a survey by the Department of Transportation determined that about 3.2 miles of the 5-mile road used for river access is within the state right of way.

Based on the results of that study, House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, introduced a bill to drop the fee and to inform dipnetters of property boundaries to keep them off Native land.

The bill has the support of various sportsmen's and dipnetters' associations but has brought objections from the Native corporations, which argue it will take more than informative maps and no trespassing signs'' to keep dipnetters from swarming over their land.

The impact, not just only on the land, and raw sewage and garbage, is a big impact,'' said Rep. Carl Morgan, R-Aniak. Someone is going to have to pick that up.''

Coghill agreed that site maintenance would have to be dealt with. He said he will also look for state money to pay for garbage collection and maintenance, which was previously paid for with $5 of each $25 fee.

Coghill noted that the change of Chitina from a subsistence to a sport fishery means more people will have to purchase $15 licenses to dipnet there, and he says some of that money could go to help pay for maintenance.

Coghill has said he hopes to get the bill through the Senate and signed into law this legislative session, which ends May 21. The Chitina fishery opens for the summer in early June.

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