Following years of contention between Chiniak residents and Leisnoi Inc. about accessing public easements, the Bureau of Land Management came to Kodiak Monday to speak to the community.
The public easements are called 17(b) easements, and are trails administered by the bureau to allow the public to cross private property to reach public lands and major waterways.
However, the public cannot use or travel on the private land surrounding the easements. Doing so could be considered trespassing.
While the bureau is not involved in civil issues such as trespassing, the agency does take action if the public’s right to access these easements is being violated.
“It’s been brought to our attention that the public believes that Leisnoi is blocking 17(b) easements,” said Kathy Van Massenhove, a representative from the Bureau of Land Management at the Monday meeting. “If that is the case our right is affected and we need to take action.”
At the meeting, community members said Leisnoi has been blocking access by digging trenches or putting mounds of dirt at the entrance of the easements.
One community member gave the example of trying to access a beach with a vehicle, but mounds of dirt blocked her access. Another community member said an easement marked on the map had been destroyed.
Jana Turvey, Leisnoi Inc. president and CEO, said Leisnoi has only blocked access to trails that are not public access 17(b) easements.
“We don’t want to block access, we want the public to have the access it needs but at the same time we want to protect the other land around the access point, making sure that our land remains in the pristine nature that we’ve been given to maintain,” Turvey said.
According to Van Massenhove, Although the bureau has maps and documents identifying the locations of the public easements, they are not always to scale. In addition, the easement trail markers are sometimes destroyed by natural occurrences or by people, she said.
When issues about public easement access arise, the bureau prefers to work directly with landowners to resolve the issues before taking action, Van Massenhove said.
At the meeting, community members commented on a damaged culvert that reportedly blocked access to a public easement near Milepost 43 in October. The easement leads to state-owned land at Sequel Point.
According to Turvey, there is still uncertainty about who is responsible for repairs. Leisnoi is working with different agencies to resolve the issue and restore access to the easement.
“We heard quotes anywhere between half a million and 4 million dollars to get that access put back,” Turvey said. “It’s not our financial responsibility to get that done. Who is going to step up and who is going to assist us?”
Turvey said Leisnoi and the bureau will work together to identify the easements and clarify the issues between public access and private land.
On Tuesday, Leisnoi representatives took Tom Sparks, an associate field manager for BLM, to view some of the easements in question.
If community members think an easement has been blocked illegally, they should contact the BLM and send GPS coordinates, location, and photographs of the easement in question, he said.