Agreement recognizes state ownership of Kotsina River

Agreement has been reached between Ahtna Inc. and the state of Alaska on the state’s ownership of a critical part of the Kotsina River riverbed, the Alaska Department of Law announced on July 31. 

“It’s been in the works for quite a while, said Nicholas Jackson, chairman of the board of Ahtna, Inc. “I think it’s a good deal.” 

The settlement, which stems from a lawsuit Ahtna filed in 2008, will result in a court judgment clarifying ownership of the Kotsina River delta and ensure continued public access to the shore lands of the Copper and Kotsina rivers in the future, said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth. 

“It has always been the state’s position that the Kotsina River is navigable in this area,” Lindemuth said.  

The area is a popular subsistence and dipnetting site. 

The 2008 lawsuit challenged a state Department f Transportation material site and sought to prohibit camping and launching of boats within a DOT right-of-way. 

The state asserted ownership of the relevant lands underlying the Kotsina River because the river was navigable, Lindemuth said. 

In 2012, the Alaska Superior Court ruled in favor of the state regarding the material site and right-of-way issues.  The court found that overnight camping in a rest area within the right-of-way and boat launching from the access road are allowed, and that DOT could continue to operate the material site located within the Kotsina River delta. The only remaining issue in the case was whether the Kotsina River is navigable, which means the state owns the land underlying the river. 

Ahtna and the state now agree that the Kotsina River is navigable in fact from its confluence with the Copper River upstream eight river miles, and this is reflected in the settlement. 

Under terms of the agreement Ahtna will not appeal the two court orders in favor of the state, and fixed boundaries define ownership of the delta. Continued access to the fish wheels is agreed to on state land. Ahtna will grant DOT easements to build and maintain dikes to protect the right-of-way, material site and public access. The state Department of Natural Resources will grant Ahtna two easements to provide access to Ahtna property on the other side of the river and to build dikes to protect its access routes.