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Alaska files suit for its rights to Mosquito Fork, riverbed

Posted: June 3, 2012 - 12:06am

FAIRBANKS — The state has filed a lawsuit challenging a Bureau of Land Management decision that the Fortymile River’s Mosquito Fork is not navigable and must remain in federal ownership.

Under federal law, the beds of all navigable waters belong to the state. But federal and state agencies often disagree about what makes a waterway navigable.

Attorney General Michael Geraghty said the state filed its lawsuit Friday because the evidence of current and historic use “clearly establishes” navigability, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The lawsuit also names a father and son from Anchorage whose federal mining claims would give them ownership of parts of the Mosquito Fork’s bed if the river is considered non-navigable.

George Seuffert Sr. and his son, George Jr., bought a dredge in 2006, as well as claims previously held by the U.S. Smelting, Refining and Mining Co.

“The non-federal defendants hold property interests that are in conflict with the state’s title,” the lawsuit states.

The Mosquito Fork originates on the slopes of a 5,000-foot mountain, 150 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

The fork flows east, becomes navigable near where it joins Wolf Creek in the Mosquito Flats and remains so for the next 80 miles to its confluence with the Dennison Fork of the Fortymile, the state asserts.

In recent years, the state of Alaska and BLM have worked out agreements transferring the beds of several rivers to state ownership.

Geraghty said that option was precluded for the Mosquito Fork because BLM declined to reconsider its 1983 decision that most of the Mosquito Fork is not navigable.

Numerous mining claims cover the river and the surrounding land.

In 1980, Congress designated the Mosquito Fork as a “national wild river” corridor from its confluence with Ketchumstuk Creek to its confluence with Ingles Creek. From Ingles Creek to the Dennison Fork, Congress established a “national scenic river” corridor.

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