Land sale could end access to lower Anchor River

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A proposed land sale could end public access to the lower Anchor River and one of the Kenai Peninsula's most popular fishing streams.

The land is being subdivided into five-acre parcels. The owners hope to win preliminary approval of their subdivision plan Monday night from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The lots could be on the market later this summer.

The owners say they've tried for years to sell the land to the state but could never agree on a price. Now it's time to move on, they say, and the first step is chopping their two large parcels into 20 smaller ones.

Supporters of a buyout still hope the land can be purchased and put into public ownership. The landowners say they're still willing to sell.

But time is drawing short, said Lynn Whitmore, a longtime local angler who just recently learned about the proposed subdivision. ''I'm going to urge that they try to convert this to public land, by whatever means necessary,'' he said. ''I want the (borough) mayor or somebody to sit down with these two sides and resolve this.''

Anchor Point pioneer Vern Mutch homesteaded the area decades ago, selecting land that ran from atop the bluffs to the Cook Inlet beach, with the river running through it.

His son Paul, a commercial fisherman who lives in Ugashik, now owns much of the land, including a 45-acre parcel just north of one of the river's most popular fishing spots, the Grass Hole.

The state Division of Parks owns the adjoining lot to the south, where it provides parking and a boat launch. But thousands of fishermen every year pass through the state land onto the Mutch property, where they camp on the gravel beach and tromp through wetlands to reach the river.

Many also walk or drive ATVs even farther north, toward the river mouth, where they trespass on a 12-acre parcel owned by Jim Jacobs.

The parks superintendent on the lower peninsula, Chris Degernes, said it's difficult to imagine the private land suddenly being posted with ''no trespassing'' signs.

''The public has used that property so many years as if it were public that it will be difficult to keep the public off,'' she said.

About 50,000 to 60,000 people visit every year, mostly to fish.

The Division of Parks and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have wanted to buy the Anchor River lands for years, but the stumbling block has always been the land appraisal.

''Land like that is difficult to appraise,'' Degernes said. Comparable lands rarely sell, so there is little to base an estimate of land value on. And the land is impossible to develop because of its wetlands, the constantly changing river course and winter storm damage.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough appraises the Mutch property at $16,500 and the Jacobs land at $15,000. The owners believe the parcels are worth much more, as does the state, though neither side will reveal its offer. But they can't agree on a price, Degernes said.

''We can't just pay what the seller wants,'' she said. ''It has to be based on fair market value, and that's been the stumbling block time and time again.''

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