City officials are concerned that a land swap giving an Angoon family title to a parcel near the Eaglecrest Ski Area leaves unsettled whether city land use regulations will apply.
The U.S. Forest Service decided in December it wants to trade federal land along Fish Creek Road on Douglas Island for a Native allotment on Admiralty Island. The allotment owners - Angoon and Juneau family members who are heirs to the Jimmy George estate - intend to develop the land, near Eaglecrest, for tourist lodging, a restaurant and several homes. Locals who now use the area for deer and grouse hunting and berry-picking would lose about a half-mile of roadside access, the Forest Service said.
The family owns about 100 acres in the south arm of Hood Bay, within the Kootznoowoo Wilderness of Admiralty National Monument.
The family may build six to 10 year-round cabins for about 30 guests initially, plus a restaurant and private homes for family members in the woods near Fish Creek Road, Gabriel George said in an interview.
But City Manager Dave Palmer has sent a letter to the Forest Service objecting that the only finding of significant impact in the Forest Service's environmental assessment of the project was that development of the parcel could impact goshawk habitat and use of an inactive goshawk nest site.
Palmer said the city disagrees with the finding. "The transfer of the federal property to a private owner without restriction, condition or consideration for the effect on the community at large or the prospective residents of the parcel may create significant adverse long-term effects," he said.
The difficulty for the city is not knowing which laws the city can enforce and which it can't, Palmer said this morning. "Leaving the issue unsettled doesn't do anybody any good."
The city has experienced the problems that come with uncertain authority when it has been asked to enforce health and safety codes on restricted lands, such as the old Indian Village near Willoughby Avenue.
"We've asked the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to what extent municipal authority applies to restricted property," said Cheryl Easterwood, the city's Community Development director.
BIA has described the state of the law as "unsettled," Easterwood said.
The Department of Interior did offer Juneau an opinion 10 years ago that the city could exercise its authority on restricted land, Easterwood said, but opinions may have changed in that time.
Palmer also objected that the Forest Service - in the environmental assessment - considered the inclusion of regulatory conditions on the transfer agreement an unnecessary encumbrance, which would decrease the value of the land. But discussions with the initial appraiser of the Fish Creek parcel "indicates that appraisal of the subject property assumed the applicability of the CBJ code," Palmer said.
Tongass National Forest lands specialist Leon Mork said this morning he was aware of the city's concerns but could not comment on them.
As to whether the Forest Service or any other federal entity is in a position to grant the city the power to exercise its regulatory authority on an apparently restricted parcel of land within its boundaries, Mork said, "No comment."
Fernand Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.