The state is actively investigating ways to solve "Boy Scoutgate" the controversy over the blocking of an access road to the Boy Scout camp near Eagle Beach.
Gary Hayden of the state Department of Transportation made clear the agency is actively involved in solving the problem.
"We are working on it, and trying out how to maintain traditional access. We are doing title searches and other research. It's one of those things that should unfold over the next several weeks," he said Friday.
The gate blocking access appeared about a month ago. Two weeks ago, Hayden, director of construction, maintenance and operations for the Southeast region of DOT, phoned William "Shorty" Tonsgard of Channel Construction to discuss the matter.
"I asked him if he would open the gate and allow public access to the trail, and he said no. I was hoping we could sit down and settle it in a friendly way rather than a legal way. But he perceives that he owns the right-of-way, and we have a different perception. So he left it that my lawyers should talk to his lawyers," Hayden said.
Doug Gardner, assistant attorney general, also has been drawn into the controversy. Gardner has established that "there is an easement that has run across that property since the early 1930s. It is an easement granted to the United States and the territory and Alaska," Gardner said Friday.
Tonsgard has placed the gate on "a state right of way, a public easement," Gardner said. One easement, Herbert River Truck Trail, used to go to Waterfall Lake, where there was mining activity. Another led to a parking lot that gave access to a trail, the river and the Boy Scout camp as well as an old (U.S.) Forest Service campground. The two easements were to remain in existence as long as the public used them," he said.
"We are not taking the installation of the gate lightly," he added.
"We are real hopeful that the gate will be removed when the owner understands the nature and quality of the easements," Gardner said. "DOT has asked him to remove the gate."
Dave Quisenberry is one local resident who is concerned over the sudden blocking of the road.
Quisenberry describes himself as "a concerned member of the public who has used this access road on a regular basis."
"I have chaperoned elementary students on hikes to the Herbert River Basin area with teachers and naturalists. I want to ensure that kids get access to a jewel of a location. What's sweet (about the 200-acre Boy Scout reserve) is that this is not a tourist thing. It's outrageous that access has been denied by someone whose motivations are unclear. I am outraged that no one has accepted clear responsibility" for erecting the gate, Quisenberry said.
Alerted by numerous calls from constituents, state Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, has become familiar with the controversy.
"He started making a bunch of phone calls, and has talked to the state and the city as well as the federal government," said Elton's legislative assistant Jesse Kiehl. "We found an old DOT right-of-way study that showed it was a federal right-of-way."
Elton is hopeful for resolution, but has set no deadline for achieving one, Kiehl said.
Tonsgard first roused local ire in April when Channel Construction clear-cut eight acres near the popular trail. Channel had received approval last year from the state's Department of Natural Resources to harvest up to 15 acres of timber in the area. Tonsgard could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Tonsgard has provided the local Council of Boy Scouts with a key to the gate's lock, according to the council's Lane Semme.
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