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Tonsgard takes down disputed gate

Company owner removes barrier until state lawsuit resolved

Posted: Friday, December 29, 2000

Channel Construction has removed a locked gate across the road to the Boy Scout camp trailhead near Eagle Beach until a lawsuit with the state is settled.

The state has sued Channel Construction, owned by William "Shorty" Tonsgard, to permanently remove the gate, which was put up two months ago. The state says the gate blocks a public easement on Boy Scout Camp Road. The road leads to a trail to the camp, which had a key to the locked gate, and to public land along the beach.

But Tonsgard, who owns 147 acres surrounding the road, has said the easement reverted to him because it hasn't been maintained, as required by the original deed.

Daniel Hickey, Tonsgard's attorney, notified Juneau Superior Court on Thursday that the gate was being removed and wouldn't be reinstalled during the lawsuit. But they aren't conceding on the substance of the lawsuit.

Hickey, speaking from his Anchorage office today, said a question about the validity of a Forest Service deed to a parcel within Tonsgard's property has halted construction work that made the gate necessary.

"Shorty put up the gate primarily because of concerns with the construction activity he had going on," Hickey said. Tonsgard also was concerned about the safety of people who use the road, Hickey said.

Hickey said Tonsgard hadn't heard of the Forest Service deed until the state mentioned it earlier this month. Hickey said it's not clear the deed is valid, or if it is, what land it refers to. Tonsgard has been paying property taxes on the 147 acres since buying the land in 1998, Hickey said.

The questions about the Forest Service deed aren't the main issue that's disputed in the lawsuit, which is the validity of two deeds to rights of way granted by the original landowner to the federal government in the 1930s. The rights of way run along Boy Scout Camp Road and Herbert River Truck Road. The Boy Scout Camp Road has been the focus of the dispute for the public because Tonsgard gated it.

"The state has asserted it's a public highway and we have the right to use that highway," said Assistant Attorney General Peter Putzier. "And Shorty has said, 'No, it's an easement that reverts to me, but we'll leave it open until the end of this (legal) action.' "

Putzier and Hickey said it will take months to research documents and take depositions before a judge hears the case.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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