Land dispute in Kodiak heads toward appeals court

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

KODIAK - A recent federal court ruling siding with a Kodiak Island village Native corporation in a land dispute could be headed for an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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The legal battle between Leisnoi Inc., the Native corporation of Woody Island, and Chiniak rancher Omar Stratman dates back more than 30 years. U.S. District Judge James Singleton in Anchorage issued a final judgment Sept. 26 dismissing claims by Stratman against Leisnoi.

The ruling means Leisnoi gets to keep all the land on Kodiak and Woody islands granted under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides in Anchorage rejected a Stratman motion seeking a reconsideration to prevent Leisnoi from buying and selling land, specifically Termination Point acreage Leisnoi tried to sell to the Exxon-Valdez Trustees.

Stratman said he plans to challenge both decisions. Such a move could prolong final settlement of the case.

"I am going to appeal. Anything is still possible," Stratman said Tuesday.

The case centers on whether Leisnoi is a Native village under ANCSA.

Leisnoi attorney John Fitzgerald of Boston, Mass., said, Stratman was "at the end of his rope." As far as Fitzgerald is concerned, the case was headed for final disposition.

"I am very proud of the Leisnoi directors and shareholders who refused to cave in to the outrageous demands of this rancher who never had any legitimate claim to any of Leisnoi's lands," he said.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne last December issued a long-awaited decision that ratified Leisnoi's status as a Native village eligible for benefits under ANCSA.

Stratman maintained Leisnoi could not claim land he leased from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

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