State lawsuit aims to declare Campbell Lake as public lake

Decades-old dispute of Campbell Lake Public Access to finally be resolved
State lawsuit aims to declare Campbell Lake as public lake
Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 10:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The State of Alaska announced on Monday it filed a lawsuit to confirm the public right-of-way to Campbell Lake in Anchorage. It’s a controversial topic as over the years the dispute has created disagreements between private landowners on the lake and the public trying to access the recreation site. With the complaint, the state is aiming to solve the dispute once and for all.

“During recent years the status of Campbell Lake as public water and access to it have caused uncertainty among lakefront property owners and the public,” Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor wrote in a press release. “The State is filing this litigation in an attempt to resolve the matter and provide certainty to all affected interests. The objective would be to establish the existence of the easement so we can negotiate a route that minimizes adverse impacts on property owners, yet allows access to a public waterbody.”

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner John Boyle said the lawsuit will help provide answers to all involved in the dispute. Earlier this year, two homeowners on the lake filed a lawsuit against Boyle regarding the legitimacy of the public access easements.

“Having the court confirm the validity of the easement will be a positive first step. We intend to vigorously protect Alaskans’ right to access public waters,” Boyle wrote in the same press release. “When the two landowners filed in federal court they were, in effect, trying to overturn decades of established section line easements in Alaska, with potential implications for access to public lands and waters across the state.

“The Departments of Law and Natural Resources look forward to defending our position that the section line easement at Campbell Lake is valid. We remain open to working with the plaintiffs and others, as we have tried in the past, on negotiating an alternative route for the easement to ensure Campbell Lake’s recreation opportunities are available to all.”

Paxson Woelber, the special features editor for the Alaska Landmine, says he initially was one of the people to look into the lake and discover it was a public body of water.

Woelber said for decades lake users have been kicked off even though the lake has been maintained by millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Many Anchorage residents use the lake as it’s a big part of Alaska’s waterway system.

“It does happen to be the biggest lake in Anchorage and it’s just a really nice place to skate or ski, or you know, people jet ski in the summer, people snowmachine in the winter,” Woelber said. “It’s really a pretty great community asset.”

There’s a public easement on both the north and south section line of Campbell Lake. When trying to access the lake through the north access ramp on Monday, Alaska’s News Source discovered some landscaping on part of the property connecting to the lake. Those trying to access the lake had to step over a small fence placed by the owner of the house by the north ramp.

“I think a lot of people acknowledge that it’s really unfortunate that somebody has a home built on a public easement. At the same time, you can’t deprive the public of an easement by building a private structure on it,” Woelber said.

Alaska’s News Source reached out to the defendants listed in the lawsuit but was unable to get in contact with most of them.

“We don’t have a comment at this time,” said Scott Jepsen, the president of the Campbell Lake Owners, Inc. “This is the first we’ve seen of the lawsuit and need to discuss it with our attorneys.”

Like Woelber, Anchorage Assembly Chair Chris Constant is also well-versed in the decades-long debate.

“In Alaska, you have the history of navigable waters being in possession of the state,” Constant said. “The people who live on the lake have tried to assert that they own all of the lake, they own all of the lands abutting it, and that the water isn’t in fact navigable.”

Constant believes the property owners are taking away the public’s right to access the lake.

“It’s an outrageous claim that’s being made by the property owners on the lake to serve their own interest and without any consideration for the broader interests of the people of Alaska,” Constant said.