BLM to visit 17(b) Easements in Chiniak Tuesday in effort to solve conflicts over access to public land


Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management are in Kodiak today learning more about the concerns of local residents who are frustrated with the closure of trails and access in Chiniak.

KMXT’s Maggie Wall attended an information meeting on 17(b) Easements and has this report.

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The BLM’s Tom Sparks said he plans to visit “hot spots” in Chiniak today. By that the BLM Associate Field Manager means that he will drive out to see what residents are facing when using federal easements to cross Leisnoi Inc. property in order to get to public land such as Chiniak beaches.

At a meeting last night BLM Realty Specialist Kathy Van Massenhove gave an informational presentation to a room of approximately 50 who wanted to learn more about 17 (b) easements and what could be done about blocked access in Chiniak.

The 17(b) easements are parcels of land, usually 25- or 50-foot wide strips, that create a public corridor to cross private land in order to reach public land on the other side. They were created as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or ANCSA, when lands were conveyed to Native corporations in 1971 as part of the act. 17(b) refers to the section of ANCSA dealing with the easements.


BLM’s Kathy Van Massenhove explains 17(b) Easements to a group of approximately 50 at the Koniag Building on Near Island Monday night. Photo: KMXT/Maggie Wall


Many Chiniak residents have complained that Leisnoi has blocked some public easements preventing access to the beach and hiking areas by putting up barriers or digging trenches. Frustration was evident when attendees asked pointed questions, and told of problems faced using traditional access routes.

Leisnoi’s President and CEO Jana Turvey told the audience that the corporation set up last night’s meeting to help people understand 17(b) Easements. She said the corporation is committed to solving the problem of easements and access in Chiniak.

She said Leisnoi believes the areas and trails that have been blocked off are not the actual public easements. She added that Lesnoi is committed to working with BLM to determine where the easements are and will rectify and open any easements if they are being blocked.

The problem is as old as the easements themselves and can be attributed in part to lack of technology such as GPS. Both Sparks and Van Massenhove say a big factor in the confusion is what is called a “scaling” issue. Lines on topographical maps show the easements, but depending on how wide the marker or pen used to scribe the lines, a 25-foot easement could actually cover 600 feet on the map. So where exactly is the real easement? To the left side of the hypothetical 600 feet? To the right side? Or somewhere in the middle?

The questions and ambiguity of old technology for defining locations has frustrated many. However, at least some of the answers could come in just a few months.

Sparks said the BLM will return in the spring at the request of Leisnoi and walk the routes of various easements along with a representative of the corporation. They will note GPS coordinates to determine where the 17(b) Easements are.

In the meantime, he advised anyone with an easement concern to contact him at the BLM office in Nome with details, photos, and GPS coordinates of the area they feel may be illegally blocked, so that his office can research that particular easement ahead of his return in the spring.

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