Governor seeks federal rights of way

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski asked Interior Department officials Thursday for an agreement recognizing historic trails and roads on federal land in Alaska.

Murkowski brought a list of 14 potential rights of way the state would like to see established. Most are within Alaska's Interior region, but none cross federal parks, wildlife refuges or wilderness areas, Murkowski told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and other Alaska reporters.

He did not immediately release the list, saying he wanted to present it to the department first.

Murkowski wants the trails recognized as rights of way established under a defunct federal law, Revised Statute 2477. The law, which Congress passed in 1867, said ''the right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.''

Congress repealed the law in 1976 but not the rights of way already established through it. However, much dispute remains about what kind of work was necessary to establish such highways and what uses are allowed on them today.

Environmental groups have warned that a liberal interpretation of the statute could allow roads throughout federal conservation areas.

Murkowski said he wants to negotiate a ''memorandum of understanding'' with the Interior Department to resolve the uncertainties. Such rights of way could be used for development projects or simply to guarantee recreational access across federal lands, Murkowski said.

The Interior Department in January announced that it would begin taking requests for ''disclaimers of interest'' on old trails and roads. Such disclaimers would relinquish federal ownership if a state or other entity could make a legitimate right of way claim under RS 2477 or some other law.

The department in April signed a memorandum of understanding with Utah to recognize certain RS 2477 rights of way in that state. The agreement said no rights of way would be recognized in conservation areas, but environmental groups have said that language is not binding.

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