Man files lawsuit over mining claim trail

Posted: Monday, December 13, 2010

FAIRBANKS - A man has filed a lawsuit over access to a trail that leads to his mining claim south of Eagle.

The state charted the Fortymile Station-Eagle Trail as one of more than 600 right-of-way trails in Alaska. But that view isn't shared by the federal government and some of Carey Mills' neighbors.

For the past three years, the Bureau of Land Management has denied Mills access to the 40-mile path, which passes through property belonging to the federal government, two Native corporations and a neighboring mining claim.

According to the agency, using the unrecognized trail amounts to trespassing.

"At this point, there's not an agreement that these things exist," BLM District Manager Bob Schneider said.

Mills, a union heavy equipment operator who lives in Fairbanks, said he has exhausted administrative claims to use the path.

"This is a public issue," Mills said. "The state should be asserting our rights, and they haven't been."

Mills filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to force the federal government to recognize the trail as a public right of way and allow him to use it to move equipment to his mine site.

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in a long-running fight stemming from to Revised Statute 2477, a defunct 1873 federal law that allowed anyone to create a public right of way across unreserved federal land. The law was repealed by Congress in 1976, but it grandfathered rights of way established before then.

In the early 1990s, then-Gov. Walter Hickel launched a program to document old trails in Alaska to prove they qualified as R.S. 2477 routes. The Legislature followed with a law that claimed 657 routes in the state, including the Fortymile Station-Eagle Trail.

However, the federal government doesn't recognize many of those routes and others in Western states. Federal land managers contend that a court ruling is necessary to transfer the title of the so-called right of way trails to state ownership.

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