by Lorien Nettleton ~ October 11th, 2011
A Talkeetna non-profit has brought lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in efforts to preserve a rural way of life.
Becky Long from Alaska Survival, the group bringing the lawsuit, says the Susitna-Matanuska Area Plan, or SMAP, adopted in August, violates Alaska law and opens the door for increased pressure from development, which would significantly alter rural life and livelihoods.
Long: “We just feel that this final plan that they’ve come up with that will really change the character of the land, besides impacting our lives, it will impact the economy”
The lawsuit claims the land uses as defined by the Chase, Talkeetna or Susitna comprehensive plans were not fully considered and incorporated into SMAP as required by Alaska Statute.
According to Long, residents of the northern Susitna valley have gone to great effort to craft comprehensive plans that reflect their values. She says one example of an area whose new land use designation under SMAP is in conflict with local comprehensive plan is in the Susitna council area.
Long: “they identified state land in the eastern portion, where they said that this area should remain as open space, in public ownership, to be used for a variety of recreational purposes. Well, this final SMAP plan went against that. They have unit S-24 which is in the eastern part of the Y community council’s comprehensive plan, it’s designated settlement. That goes against their recommendation in the plan.”
Marty Parsons oversaw the group that worked on SMAP for the last two and a half years. Parsons had not had a chance to review the appeal and so couldn’t comment on it directly, but he maintains that DNR upheld applicable statues and constitutional law.
Parsons: “Our division works diligently to make sure that we work with the public, with the affected communities, and with the affected municipalities so that we try to incorporate as many of the management concepts that they would like to see into the area plan.”
Parsons says 16 meetings were held area-wide, and one-hundred-ninety-six people attended those meetings. In response to the concerns about land disposals, he says that an area classified as settlement still has to go through several steps before the land would be sold.
Parsons: “there are lands that are designated for settlement. But before any of those lands would be offered for sale, we go through a preliminary decision process, we go through a public review of that decision, often times there are public meetings held in the areas where the land disposals will take place, we take the comments into consideration that the public has brought to us, we produce a final finding, and that goes out again for more public review with an opportunity for an appeal or a request for reconsideration, or some subsequent action after the final finding has been adopted.”
Long maintains that the process should have had more opportunity for public input on the process. While meetings were held locally in Talkeetna, they took place in April during breakup, and travel was limited for residents in bush areas.
Long: “my point is if you’re going to go against so many recommendations in these three comprehensive plans, there needs to be more discussion between the state and the people on this”
Unless an out-of-court settlement can be reached, the appeal process is expected the take about 6 months before judgment can be issued.