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Monday, September 27, 2021

Is change always good?

 

Talkeetna Reflections

(2021©donnliston.com)

 

A U.S. Geological Survey party at work, near present-day Talkeetna. 
Stephen R. Capps Collection, UAF

Rural Alaska in the 1950s--60s--70s was rugged, with community members pulling together to face good times and bad; any individual member or family could need help at any time, and all shared in opportunities. Quality of daily life along the Southcentral rail belt was determined by conditions of nature. Today the community of Willow is thriving, as is Talkeetna, but Curry, north of Talkeetna, is long gone and the very nature of life in these remaining communities has changed.

 

[1]

 

For myself. during the mid-1960s I lived a few years at a White Alice military installation near the community of Yakutat, a meridian rainforest Native village at Yakutat Bay—which turns the corner to Southeast Alaska. That community had two k-8 schools--one for whites and one for Natives--but no high school.[2] On the Southcentral Alaska Railbelt, in Talkeetna, a little girl was experiencing a different Alaska and today she is conflicted by the changes she has witnessed.

 

Holly Sheldon Lee, Is an assertive community advocate.

 



Sheldon Lee explained: My memory goes back to the late 1960s, when what is now Nagley’s Store was the B & K Trading Post. The B & K grubstaked the miners, trappers and homesteaders in the area. This is something I haven’t seen in decades. Dad would fly the first Denali climbers, and he flew the grubstaked miners and trappers into the area mountains, and the lowlands below the Alaska Range. The B & K would ready supplies for miners and trappers like Rocky Cummins and Jim Beaver, jeep them over to my dad’s airplane, and they were gone for the entire summer—three to four months—after signing for the goods and for the flight cost. Everybody hoped for a productive summer to pay for what they had committed.

 

Her dad was Don Sheldon; Holly was born at Providence Hospital in Anchorage and at three days old Sheldon flew wife Roberta and their newborn to Talkeetna, where Holly grew up in the lifestyle of rural Alaska observing people and events through a lens of traditional values.

 

Read Alaska Chalet BNB story here: 

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-best-thing-about-being-in-anchorage.html

 

When the miners, trappers and homesteaders returned from the field, they had furs and gold and what they had grown, continued Sheldon Lee. At the Fairview Inn about the end of September we had a potluck every day. Whole families would come with wares to sell or trade. Anchorage furrier David Green would be here, and I remember as a child: “Oh, there is Mr. Green!” He had a big envelope packed with cash. He would buy furs. Jewelers would come to buy gold at the end of the season. The B & K would be paid for the supplies they had grubstaked. That is very different than what goes on here now.

 

A walk around downtown Talkeetna this year, in late August, confirmed that statement.

 

The Fairview Inn has been for sale for years.

The Fairview Inn has always been a tavern, but it used to also serve as our Community Meeting Place when we were a very small town, Holly continued. The Village Air Strip is across Main Street. That is where my dad’s operation was based. When that air strip was too muddy in the spring, or fall, Dad would taxi the airplanes down the road to the state airstrip--but mostly he worked off the Village Air Strip.


The still active Talkeetna Village Airstrip.

Holly continued: These are fond memories of the kids from around the territory coming here to the Fairview Inn--and I lived just across the street--so I got to see everybody and participate in everything. We played, the community had square dances in the street, and it was a big celebration at the end of the summer. Nothing like how packed Main Street is now.

The house where Holly Sheldon Lee grew up is today screened from tourists.

 

That yellow house is where I grew up, continued Sheldon. What is now a large art gallery next door is where my dad used to keep his planes. I attended the last first grade class in the little red schoolhouse on the other side of the yellow house. When my dad would land and fuel up the planes, I got permission to go help my dad during the school day. I would bring friends with me.

This used to be the vacant lot where Don Sheldon parked and refueled his planes.

 

Turning to the other side of the street, Holly pointed out: This used to be the gas station I worked at, Union76. It is Denali Brewpub now. Rose and Gene Jenne operated it as a gas and service station for decades.

 


 

Talkeetna stays open all winter but a lot of the tourist businesses close. Coronavirus has also impacted business operations, including the Talkeetna Roadhouse, which this writer has previously written about.[3]

 

Sign of the times—Notifications on the door of the Talkeetna Road House.

Another sign of the times is a Cannabis shop in the cabin built by Legendary Denali climber Ray Genet. Previously it was a chocolate shop prior to being purchased by an Outside interest to make it a pot shop.

 

Read Cozy Interiors Story Here:

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/01/destiny-happens.html

 

A posting on another blog enthuses about how cleaver and really cool this pot shop is. You know, dude? In all it’s delusion, the story also accidently states one undeniable fact about Genet:

For those who don’t know, Ray Genet is a legend. He was a Swiss-born Mountaineer and Guide best known for his pioneering efforts on Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.[4]

Holly was part of the effort to have this cannabis shop located in a different part of town instead of in the heart of the community on Main Street. She and others opposed it being 66-feet from a camper park, and 126-feet from the Talkeetna NPS Ranger Station where children’s programs were offered before this business was placed here. Political power of the Mat-Su Borough Marijuana Cartel has allowed it. She is further affronted by advertising for air taxi services in front of a cannabis dispensary.

 

One might ask: Are they encouraging flying intoxicated?

 

Holly resents use of Genet’s picture on the signage of the pot shop: He was a clean, sober man. He was a Teetotaler. What is happening now with legalized marijuana is something none of the men of that generation would have allowed in the heart ofTalkeetna, she said. They might not have cared about it on the periphery but not as a predominant feature of our community.

The cabin built on Main Street Talkeetna by legendary Denali Mountaineer, Ray Genet, features his likeness although many believe he would NOT have likely endorsed a substance used solely to cause intoxication.



Holly should know what Genet would have allowed. An account of a 1970 climb is on the Sheldon Air Service website.[5]

 



This red hanger was my dad’s hanger, said Holly. My mom gave it to the town, It was moved back and another story built under it for community events.

 

Sheldon continued: The hanger and my dad’s warehouse and some other outbuildings actually came from Curry. They had a fancy dining hall there, and you can still find chips of fine china and crystal glassware fragments. When Curry ceased to exist my dad went up there and purchased several buildings--trading flight services--and they took the buildings down and moved the parts by railroad to Talkeetna. The buildings were reconstructed here for his business.

 

The historic Curry Hotel.

Leaving downtown Takeetna, we travel to the far end of the Village Airstrip.

 

Here we are now at the confluence of the Talkeetna, Susitna and Chuitna Rivers, explains Sheldon. From here it creates the Big Su River. This is a sight to see in the summertime; the river now is silty from glacier melt off, but in the spring and after the melt out happens--and in the fall before winter sets in-- it becomes pristine blue and green before the ice of winter.

 

Three rivers meet at the far end of the Talkeetna Village Airstrip.

We used to come down here to pick the cottonwood tips in the summer and there is plantain here too, continued Sheldon Lee. It used to be a longer strip, but they built a parking lot because that is what they have to do now, leaving a much smaller place for planes to land.

 

We cross the Alaska Railroad tracks and head back to Sheldon Air Service, where Holly’s Husband, David Lee, is doing what pilots do in fixed based operations stations all around the state after a day of providing services—drinking coffee and talking to customers and visitors.

 



I came up here at about 14 years old, explained David Lee. I had come home from school one day and they were building this hanger over here, they had a pile of plywood there and said: “Hey kid, help us load this plywood.”

 

So, I started working there on weekends to build that hanger, continued Lee. And I became a ramp rat, you know, sweeping floors and washing planes. Soon I started getting instruction, and I focused on my private pilot’s license. By 1980 I was a commercial pilot, and we did a few scenic flights of Denali with a Cessna 206 on wheels. That started it.

 

Two always sober Alaskan pilots. David Lee and George Murphy. Murphy happened to drop by for a visit to Sheldon Air Service on this occasion. George flew many years for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Did you have to learn some things the hard way?

 

Yes. Back then there was no training program, Lee responded. The guy I worked for told me: Do you see that fork out there? Well, there’s a notch in the mountain when you get there. You need to fly through there and on your right is a glacier, watch out and you’ll see some tracks...I started out on nice days when everything was calm and eventually started going up there when the weather wasn’t so good, It was a steep learning curve.

Read Sheldon Air Service story here:

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/08/what-would-don-and-roberta-sheldon-have.html

 

How has the business changed?

 

I made three tourism flights to Denali today, Lee responded, but in the past I might fly as many as 7-8 flights to the mountain. We had a 14-hour duty period and I remember having to get back to stay within the legal limits. We also had other pilots working for us.

 

Today Sheldon Air Service has its niche, with deep roots in the community of Talkeetna. Covid has impacted this business greatly but obviously some changes have been easier to accept than others.

 

The Talkeetna Cemetery graves of Don and Roberta Sheldon.


 

References:

 

[1] National Park Service Historical Information

https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/dena/hrst.htm#maps

 

[2]Nike Site Reflections

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2018/07/nike-site-reflections.html

 

[3]The Historic Talkeetna Roadhouse

https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-historic-talkeetna-roadhouse-july-2.html

 

[4] ExploreInspired Blog

https://exploreinspired.com/the-high-expedition-ray-genet/

 

[5] Account of Ray Genet assent with Don Sheldon delivery to the mountain

https://www.sheldonairservice.com/news/eight-days-to-the-top

 



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 https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/09/is-change-always-good.html

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Threat of Competence

 Who is Politicizing Alaska’s Health Care Crisis?

(2021©donnliston.com)


David Morgan’s career includes over 40 years professional senior level operational management and administration, focused on community health center operations, healthcare financial operations, budgets preparation, strategic planning and networking. His technical qualifications include a background in analytical program planning for hospitals, tribal health organizations and primary care clinics with community engagement.

As a former employee at Providence Alaska Medical Center, and chair of former Mayor Dan Sullivan’s Health Care Commission, David Morgan asks the hard questions and has demonstrated with his own actions how principles of economics can provide better care at cheaper rates, while assuring health care providers make enough money to stay in business. That’s the real reason why the Anchorage Assembly challenged his recent appointment by Mayor David Bronson to head the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) Health Department.

 

The Assembly majority isn’t qualified to shine Morgan’s shoes and doesn’t want Mayor Bronson to be successful in bringing Anchorage out of the mess created by these misfits. When Morgan realized the caliber of people he was being judged by in the confirmation process, he withdrew his name from consideration.

 



The problems I ran into had to do with my past political affiliations, said Morgan in our recent interview. Republican Party conservatives want to reduce healthcare costs at the state and local levels. This is in contrast with the Alaska Hospital Association and the Alaska Medical Association—the industrial state of healthcare. They are not happy with me because anywhere I have worked costs go down, service goes up, and I produce more revenue, without increasing costs or restricting competition, but by providing better services through efficiencies of scale.

 

[1]

 

Morgan has an impish smile and talks Kentuckian, as does my wife Waneta. They determined it is possible they are cousins.

 

How could the majority of elected officials on the Municipal Assembly understand this approach as they strive for politically-charged government dependency over individual Alaskan autonomy?

 

The point is the entire system of health care for the state of Alaska is designed NOT to have competition, Morgan continued. Opponents to my appointment were upset because I pointed out the military option. Their biggest argument for making us wear masks and require lockdowns was a shortage of ICU beds. They don’t want anybody to know the JBER 673rd Medical Brigade can staff 55 ICU beds anytime and hasn’t. If all the local hospital beds are really full, in five days new ICU units could be set up in the parking lot of Providence Medical Center or Alaska Native Medical Center—we could have 30 or 40 beds with professional staff quickly available. For the mere price of $1 such an intervention would be called a “training exercise.”

 

These would be high quality care facilities, too.

 

[2]

 

My goal for the short time I was Health Director wasn’t a political goal, continued Morgan. My goal was to meet five-year budget projections by reducing costs by eight percent and increasing healthcare for Alaskans. While on the previous Muni health commission under Mayor Sullivan we found that the health department was doing stuff that had nothing to do with the mission of that department. It was doing stuff for politics.

 

Morgan also served on the State Health Commission for 5 years, representing Primary Care (CHCs) Programs and Clinics for the State of Alaska. That Commission was dissolved by the Legislature--as it started to get to the heart of the healthcare cost and access problems for the State. This was explained in MUST READ ALASKA story: Lawmakers Took Big Bucks From Hospital Group, And Vetoed Accordingly.[3]


This practice continues to today. A number of bills in the Alaska Legislature to reform healthcare were killed in the 3rd Special session.


Both political parties have members who are captive to the Healthcare Lobby, according to Morgan. Nothing the Alaska Legislature or the Anchorage Assembly majority have done is about providing a better quality of life for Alaskans or Anchorage property owners who pay for this circus.

 

Read Story Here: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/01/destiny-happens.html

The argument they are using is “it’s a panic,” said Morgan. In reality, we only have a pandemic of the unvaccinated. There is no reason we cannot reduce cost and provide better health care for Alaskans overall. I have done it. I have a track record of doing it but they won’t do it because they don’t know what it would require.

 

Alaska’s Colony Status




 

Anybody who has lived in Alaska for any amount of time knows this state was a marriage of convenience with the United States of America. University of Alaska History Professor Steven Haycox wrote an entire book celebrating this reality, Alaska; An American Colony.[4] The result is that public policy is convoluted and skewed to benefit a few short-sighted special interests over the long-term good of Alaskans.

 

In the case of healthcare, that means Alaska has a lot of rich doctors.

 


 

Over more than a year Covid-19 has shed a light on the problems of our healthcare cartel. It has become a reason to suspend rights under the US and Alaska Constitutions, with a disproportionate reaction given our state’s many other serious health care needs.

 

Morgan explained: We are the only clinic other than the military hospital that treats people with TB in airtight rooms. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) also require special protocols by health professionals for their protection. Homeless people can get runny sores, polyps, and samples must be taken to be cultured. Sometimes when that is being done it can spray—from everywhere on the human body that sexual activity can happen. We don’t judge, we are simply trying to stop syphilis, gonorrhea, and other life-threatening communicable diseases. I required all health workers in the Anchorage health Center to wear N95 masks.

 

But the myopic political focus of the Assembly is on Covid:


 

Around twenty percent of Alaska hospital beds are being used for Covid patients.

 

A couple of times in the past we have been full, said Morgan. But the argument is never about increasing supply, it is about requiring everybody to get a vaccination, everybody to wear a mask, everybody to lockdown, and we aren’t going to have normal public school, either.


 

Read story here:  https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/08/what-would-don-and-roberta-sheldon-have.html


Previously I used my training to reduce costs, expand service and make money for the provider, continued Morgan. I might reduce the amount we billed, but money from the state and federal governments through Indian Health Services plus Medicaid Treaty Rights provisions expanded it overall. What we got was not based on billing, it was based on how many people we served. I started applying community health standards to see people who are not part of the tribal organizations. For people who were not Alaska Native but were living in Barrow, later in Sand Point, it is a $900 trip to go to the doctor for a typhoid shot. We got grants for the rest of the people living in those rural communities because we were seeing them anyway, with agreements with other providers like Providence Hospital, to provide tertiary care.

 

More recently, as director to yet be confirmed by the Assembly, Morgan had begun the process of gaining nurses-in-training for the MOA. Approved candidates could have their entire tuition paid for by working in Alaska hospitals designated as high need areas. This was a supply-side effort that has gone away now in favor of hysteria of overworked nurses driving healthcare decisions by misfit Assembly Majority members.

 

The Political Threat of Competence

 

Morgan came from a family of physicians. His grandfather was a doctor, his grandmother was a nurse, his father and two brothers are doctors, and 14 cousins are doctors. He was weaned on the medical profession but chose to train in healthcare service administration.

 

From 1983 t0 1986 I worked for a health co-op called Hunter Health at Bartholomew County Hospital, said Morgan. It had started back in the 1800s in Lexington, Kentucky. I was assistant manager for budget and cost. We had 28,000 members. That organization had started as an agriculture co-op, but at the turn of the century they couldn’t get a doctor. The way agriculture co-ops work is everybody pays a little money to buy a number of tractors, for instance, so the cost of a tractor for an individual farmer member is half. They also sold their crops as a collective. They had a small clinic with two doctors, three nurses and 4 or 5 beds. Back then the doctors actually went on rounds by horseback.

 

Read story here: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-best-thing-about-being-in-anchorage.html

 

In 1987 Morgan went to Providence Hospital in Alaska, where he worked as manager of patient accounts until 1991. After that, until 1996, Morgan was Finance Director and Acting City Manager for the City of Whittier and Alakanuk. He was next elevated to Deputy Director for Operations and Finance for Eastern Aleutian Tribes, Inc. where he managed day-to-day administration and financial operations for five primary care clinics, supervising 24 employees, until 2001. From 2001 to 2003 Morgan was ANA Project Manager for the Chugach Region’s Chugachmiut Inc. as ANA Project Director. Next Southcentral Foundation employed Morgan as Reimbursement Director to direct revenue cycle operations, compliance and Medicare/Medicaid Medical and Home Health Costs. Since 2015 Morgan has been a consultant with Affordable Healthcare Consulting Services providing strategic financial and data analysis, auditing services, planning recommendations and other technical services.

 


 

Most recently Morgan led a group of Alaska Roundtable community leaders in development of a comprehensive policy paper on healthcare. He provided a copy of the executive summary of that 28 page book with tables for this story. I provide it here in complete form:

 




 Personally, as a citizen journalist, I admit being intimidated by the challenge of providing an overview of the healthcare crisis we face as Alaskans. It’s a complex and specialized problem, but I am struck by the smallness of some elected officials who are so dogmatic that they cannot see the value in having a proven administrator like David Morgan put the Anchorage Department of Health on a solid administrative footing, ultimately for the good of all Alaskans.

 

Mayor Bronson knows we can do better but it may take an election of new Assembly members to reimagine local government competency.

 

Resources:

 

[1] Alaska Health Care Costs compared to other states


 

[2] JBER Medical Personnel Deemed Best

https://www.jber.jb.mil/News/News-Articles/NewsDisplay/Article/1515433/jber-medical-personnel-deemed-best-in-pacaf-air-force/

 

[3] Lawmakers Took Big Bucks From Hospital Group, And Vetoed Accordingly

https://mustreadalaska.com/alaska-lawmakers-took-big-bucks-from-a-hospital-trade-group-and-then-voted-accordingly/

 

[4] Dr. Stephen Haycox, Alaska; An American Colony, University of Washington Press, 2002.


 _____

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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Is this any way to run a Railroad?

 The Alaska Railroad Deception

(2021©donnliston.com)

 



 

Alaskans love the Alaska Railroad. I was reminded of what a delightful part of Alaska this historic railroad represents when Waneta and I won a free trip to Denali during the Willow Winter Carnival raffle in 2019. We enjoyed every minute of the trip in mostly empty cars during summer of 2020.

 



 

This is our train. Alaskans subsidize its operation.

 

The Alaska Railroad was turned over to the State of Alaska from the federal government in 1982 under US Code Title 45, Chapter 21, the Alaska Railroad Transfer Act “ARTA.”[1]

 

Read Story: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/01/destiny-happens.html


 

ARR has been our baby for 30 years.

 

The Alaska Railroad Corporation 2020 Annual Report reveals the decline in revenues it has recently suffered. Waneta and I were two of the mere 32,000 passengers—down from an average ridership of half a million passengers—who rode the trains last year. We used free tickets.

 


 

Milepost 1- March 12, 1914

The US Congress agrees to fund construction and operation of a railroad from Seward to Fairbanks. Estimated construction cost - $35 million.

 


 

Tourism is only part of ARR’s function. Passenger travel is not enough to sustain the corporation that manages this system. The bread and butter of ARRC is 1) hauling freight, 2) grants from the government, and 3) real estate. Passenger revenues are typically 20 percent of revenues. 2020 saw another financial downturn in that respect: ridership declined and grants again increased.

 


 

This corporation is hungry.

 

From the corporation Press Release, April 1, 2021: ANCHORAGE, AlaskaThe Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) released its 2020 annual report today. Audited financial statements show a net loss of $7.8 million, with total revenues of $150.7 million and total expenses of $158.5 million.[2]

 

Those are the big numbers.

 

In short, freight revenues for 2020 were down to $73,649,000 from 2019’s gross of $85,340,000—a loss of $11,691,000. Passenger revenues in 2020 were down to $3,348,000 from 2019’s $39,571,000. Covid-19 has taken its toll, but operation of trains is only one part of the equation.

 

Milepost 2- July 15, 1923

President Warren G. Harding travels to Alaska to mark the completion of the Alaska Railroad by driving the golden spike in ceremonies at Nenana, one of the state's largest cities at the time. President Harding died from an attack of food poisoning on his return trip to San Francisco on August 2, 1923.

 

Read story here:  https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/08/what-would-don-and-roberta-sheldon-have.html

For an overview of how our State Railroad has performed, I have gone through the financial report for every year since 2005 to consider how the leadership of the company describe results of their efforts. Since the primary mission is to operate a railroad, I gleaned from the annual reports basic operation costs/expenses and created an overview chart with those simple numbers. I am not an accountant and the complicated financials of this corporation are far beyond my training, but as Alaskans we can reach some general conclusions about the railroad gifted to us by the federal government, and perhaps explanations for current business practices.

 



 

Milepost 3 January 14, 1983

President Ronald Reagan signs into law legislation authorizing transfer of the Alaska Railroad to the State of Alaska.

 

Read Story Here: https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-best-thing-about-being-in-anchorage.html

This railroad is considerably more than the train some of us we were gifted under the Christmas Tree as children; we like our railroad, and we want it to be successful. But some Alaskans have begun to express concern about business practices regarding easements on privately owned land. They have become an organized political force.

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1711686915617367

 


Blog: https://alaskansforpropertyrights.com/

 

WHO ARE WE AND HOW CAN YOU HELP STOP THE INJUSTICE?

ALASKANS FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS is a joint response public relations campaign to educate the public on the injustices caused by the Alaska Railroad. We are a group of Alaskan Citizens, Businesses, Municipalities, and Utility Companies fighting for the injustices being caused by our own Alaskan Company; The Alaska Railroad Corporation.

And their message has become shrill:

 


 

I first learned of these concerns as staff for Rep. Lora Reinbold in 2018 when an effort was made to address railroad easement property right concerns with House Joint Resolution No. 38. I recall extensive conversations with representatives of ARRC--including former Gov. Bill Sheffield who is now Director Emeritus on the ARRC Board of Directors. Sheffield is the only Alaska governor to be impeached but he has been a mainstay on the ARRC Board.

 

Milepost 4 April 1995

Former Governor Bill Sheffield is appointed to the Board of Directors and elected chairman.

 

See my previous story about Gov. Sheffield here:  https://donnliston.blogspot.com/2019/12/alaska-corruption-and-failed.html

 

Another bill in the 2017-18 Alaska House (HB 93) had a companion bill in the Senate (SB 68), sponsored by then-Sen. Michael Dunleavy clarifying state law to protect landowners with ARRC easements. [4] That resolution (HJR 38) went through two committees and was rolled into HB 119 which passed the legislature in the very last hour of the session despite a huge lobby effort against it by the ARRC. It established the intent of the Alaska Legislature and expressed concerns about ARRC business practices.[5]

 


 

Alaska Congressman Don Young was part of the deliberation that transferred ARR to the state in 1982 and in an April 16, 2018 letter to Alaska Rep. Chuck Kopp the intent was spelled out:

 

House Joint Resolution 38 outlines what can only be described as a failure by the agencies to understand clear direction from Congress and to dutifully recognize basic tenets of due process, needlessly resulting in a cloud on title for both the Alaska Railroad and its neighbors along the right­of-way. There is no way a bill quietly annexing private property rights, especially without any notice or compensation, would have passed Congress in 1982. You only have to read the plain language of ARTA to know that -the transfer of "rail properties of the Alaska Railroad" over privately owned land only included the "Federal interest" in those lands. If the federal government did not own it, it was not included in the transfer. There is no canon of statutory construction, or even common sense reading, that could argue an unconstitutional taking of private property rights was the intent of Congress.[7]

 

ARRC Doesn’t Care

 

Direction from the Alaska Legislature and our US Congressman didn’t solve the problem, which seems to be getting more elevated. The parties are likely to be in court before too long although Gov. Dunleavy has urged mediation of the issue. These Alaskans who own land with railroad easements are facing a corporation with tremendous resources. As recently as August 2, 2021 Gov. Dunleavy sent a letter to ARRC Vice-Chair Judy Petry urging the corporation to back off. In that letter Gov. Dunleavy conveys his view that the transfer of the railroad rights-of-way for train tracks and utilities does not mean exclusive use ownership. Because ARRC has sued a South Anchorage Homeowner’s association, Flying Crown HOA, and asked the court for summary judgment, other interests have stepped up to charge they have also been harmed by ARRC. [8]

 

In their legal brief ARRC in federal court asserts that there are two questions at issue:

 

 (1) the scope of the interest reserved by the federal government in the Federal Land Patent issued to defendant’s predecessor in interest; and (2) the scope of the interest conveyed by the federal government to the state of Alaska in its right-of-way over the same property.[8]

 

Defendants have alleged that the State cannot give to ARRC what the Federal Government never possessed. They have launched a public education campaign to explain this point.

 



 

Other interest’s Legal Briefs

The Municipality of Anchorage on August 8, 2021 filed a brief in opposition to ARRC’s request for summary judgement. (Case 3:20-cv-00232-JMK Document 86). It concludes the following:

As described above, the right of way reservation in patent under the 1914 Act reserved an easement limited for railroad purposes similar in kind to the types of easements created under the 1875 ROW Act and the 1898 AK ROW Act. Contemporary legislation and legal precedent support this conclusion in addition to broader legal precedent and public policy considerations. Further, no more than the easement limited for railroad purposes which was reserved under the 1914 Act was transferred to ARRC by ARTA. To find otherwise would go against the public policy supporting the determinant nature of deeds and create an impermissible, unconstitutional interpretation of ARTA resulting from a federal taking of property rights previously conveyed under patent.

 

Enstar Natural Gas Co. also submitted an amicus legal brief August 23, 2021 in support of Flying Crown’s Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment. (Alaska Railroad Corp. v. Flying Crown, Case No. 3:20-cv-00232-JMK)

 

The width of the 1914 Act railroad easement is “one hundred feet on either side of the center line of any such road.”  At Potter Marsh, the pipeline runs parallel to the tracks between railroad mileposts 100.33 and 103.12 along the Turnagain Arm.  The pipeline is buried approximately 80 to 97 feet to the southwest (ocean side) of the tracks. This is well outside of the railbed itself.  The majority of the pipeline at Potter Marsh is within the Turnagain Arm tidal area—an expanse of mudflat that floods at hightide and is scraped by ice in the winter. The fee interest to the relevant Potter Marsh land was conveyed to the State of Alaska in 1969 by Patent 50-69-0199, subject to a reservation for the 1914 Act right-of-way easement.  The Railroad currently charges $5,875/year for ENSTAR’s permit to this stretch of subsurface tideland. This is more than six times what ENSTAR would pay were it to simply acquire a right-of- way from the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the actual owner of the tideland.

 

ARRC has already initiated a payment scheme for recreational users, rock climbers and wind surfers on the ROW along Turnagain Arm and has expressed interest in expanding this practice.

 

Alaskans love our railroad. We are proud to take visitors on the trains through pristine wilderness to magical destinations. We respect our railroad’s need to be profitable and accept the reality of that challenge. Historically, intrepid Alaskans have settled Alaska homesteads and depended upon the Alaska Railroad, accepting its need for room to operate on lands it doesn’t own outright. But that is where our charity ends; we do not expect the Alaska Railroad to be a predator organization, usurping land, overcharging for use of land or dragging good Alaskans into federal court at great expense to bully landowners who must rally popular support for justice. That isn’t the Alaskan way; this bull-headed business practice tarnishes the brand when we all know the AARC future is bright for many reasons.

 

This spectacle needs to end and ARRC can end it NOW.

 

Resources:

 

[1] “ARTA” US Code Title 45 Chapter 21

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/sites/default/files/akrr_pdfs/Corp_ARTA_2005.pdf

 

[2] ARRC Press Release April 1, 2021

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/sites/default/files/Communications/04_01_2021_ARRC_2020_AnnualRpt_Release.pdf

 

[3] AARC Annual Reports (2011-Present)

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/corporate/leadership/reports

 

[4] 2017 Legislation RE ARRC Right-of-Ways

http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/30/Bills/SB0068A.PDF

http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/30/Bills/HB0093A.PDF

 

[5]House Joint Resolution No. 38

http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/30/Bills/HJR038A.PDF

 

HJR 38 Supporting Documents: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=30&docid=54490

  

[6]Letter to Rep. Chuck Kopp from Congressman Don Young

https://www.railroadedalaska.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Don-Young-letter-41618-re-HJR38.pdf

  

[7] Gov. Dunleavy recent response to ARRC Legal Action:



[8]Alaska Railroad Corporation vs Flying Crown HOA

https://www.railroadedalaska.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ARRC-Complaint-v.-Flying-Crown-HOA-1.pdf



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