Screenshot 
Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feigi, right, and Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills, announced alongside Gov. Mike Dunleavy the state was issuing lawsuits against the federal government for its failure to convey submerged lands to the state. Feige said at the conference the state’s rule applied to navigable waterways including Mendenhall Lake and said motorized boats were allowed on the lake.

Screenshot Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feigi, right, and Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills, announced alongside Gov. Mike Dunleavy the state was issuing lawsuits against the federal government for its failure to convey submerged lands to the state. Feige said at the conference the state’s rule applied to navigable waterways including Mendenhall Lake and said motorized boats were allowed on the lake.

Dunleavy announces lawsuits over submerged lands

Dunleavy: Feds have failed to work with Alaska

This story has been updated to include a response from the U.S. Forest Service.

In a sweeping announcement Tuesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state was filing lawsuits against the federal government for failing to convey submerged lands to the state, and for ignoring repeated requests from the state to inventory structures on state lands.

The issue stems from a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision Sturgeon v. Frost where justices decided unanimously Alaska’s lands submerged beneath navigable waterways were controlled by the state. Dunleavy announced his Unlocking Alaska initiative, a concerted effort by the administration to bring legal action against the federal government for what the state sees as failure to comply with the Supreme Court decision.

“We’re going to hold your feet to the fire,” Dunleavy said at an Anchorage news conference. “As a matter of principle, we will not concede one inch to the federal government.”

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said at the conference the state was issuing trespassing orders to federal agencies with structures such as docks on state lands without the proper state permits. The state also sent cease and desist orders to federal agencies with planned projects, such as the planned expansion at the Mendenhall Visitor Center. Feige said because Mendenhall Lake is a navigable waterway, it falls under the jurisdiction of the state and not the U.S. Forest Service and as such, state laws permitted motorized vehicles on the lake.

[Masks again required in Juneau schools]

“Alaskans have the right to use motorized vehicles on Mendenhall Lake,” Feige said.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire 
Gov. Mike Dunleavy asserted that Alaskans are able to user motorized watercraft in the Mendenhall Lake, contrary to longstanding practice, in a news conference on April 26, 2022.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire Gov. Mike Dunleavy asserted that Alaskans are able to user motorized watercraft in the Mendenhall Lake, contrary to longstanding practice, in a news conference on April 26, 2022.

If Alaskans were fined by federal agents, Dunleavy said the state had set up a page on the DNR website where the citations can be submitted and the state will decide if it wants to take legal action to defend the citizen.

Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills said at the conference the state had won every case related to waterways it had filed.

“I’ve heard a lot about, well (doesn’t the state) lose a lot of lawsuits,” Mills said. “That’s not true. The state has had a lot of success with navigable water litigation. We have won every single case we have brought in this area.”

In an email, Forest Service spokesperson Erica Keene said the agency was aware of Tuesday’s news conference and will review documents related to submerged lands in the Tongass National Forest. The agency works closely will state partners, Keene said, and will do so on this topic as well.

“We have law behind us,” Dunleavy said. “There are certain federal agencies and certain federal agents who say they’re going to ignore the law.”

Dunleavy said his administration has sent repeated requests to the Forest Service to begin the process of identifying and conveying navigable waters and to provide an inventory of federal structures on state lands. The state has identified 800,000 miles of navigable rivers in Alaska and 30 million acres of navigable lakes.

The administration also sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Debb Haaland, who recently met with Dunleavy on her visit to the state.

“We remain willing to work with you constructively to find solutions that are in the best interests of Alaskans, but now is the time for action, not more non-commmittal promises and hollow assurances,” the letter said. “We are moving forward boldly; we hope that you will work with us to recognize what has been state property for 63 years: Alaska’s submerged lands.”

Control of lands as well as permitting processes are topics frequently raised by the Dunleavy administration.

When the Alaska House of Representatives passed the state’s operating budget last month, it included $4.9 million for the Department of Environmental Conservation to hire an additional 28 workers to take over a federal permitting process related to the Clean Water Act, according to the Associated Press. But that money was removed from the draft budget bill by the Senate Finance Committee, AP reported, after some lawmakers expressed skepticism about the cost to the state.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, after returning from an event in Baltimore on infrastructure. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)
Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

The move would formally restructure the federal coronavirus response.

Eaglecrest Ski Patrol received a report of an avalanche in closed terrain in the East Bowl Chutes at 10:10 a.m. Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)
David Holmes digs through a pile of boardgames during Platypus Gaming’s two-day mini-con over the weekend at Douglas Public Library and Sunday at Mendenhall Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Good times keep rolling with Platypus Gaming

Two-day mini-con held at Juneau Public Library.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau man indicted on child pornography charges

A Juneau man was indicted Thursday on charges of possessing or accessing… Continue reading

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Juneau’s municipal and state legislative members, their staff, and city lobbyists gather in the Assembly chambers Thursday meeting for an overview of how the Alaska State Legislature and politicians in Washington, D.C., are affecting local issues.
Local leaders, lawmakers and lobbyists discuss political plans for coming year

Morning meeting looks at local impact of state, national political climates.

This photo shows pills police say were seized after a suspicious package was searched. (Juneau Police Department)
Police: 1,000 fentanyl pills, 86 grams of meth seized

Juneau man arrested on felony charges.

Most Read