The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

‘Highways of Commerce,’ ‘Navigability Policy’ explained



Publisher’s note: The comments stated in this commentary are the opinion of Robert Reisner and do not represent the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area board.

Greetings my fellow citizens.

In this commentary we will look into federal surveyors’ “Highways of Commerce” versus Alaska Department of Natural Resources “Navigability Policy.”

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, federal surveyors noted in reports and maps the navigable rivers used by riverboats and barges transporting provisions that could supply several mining camps or an establishing a town. The average weight of provisions per shipment were 125 tons of various supplies. The rivers were declared as “highways of commerce” by the federal surveyors in order to comply with certain details in the 1862 Settlement Act.

When the first federal surveyor parties visited Resurrection Bay in the late 19th century, no rivers qualified as “highways of commerce” by the investigation. However, in the mid-20th century the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did note that the Resurrection River, from its mouth to the three bridges was “navigable,” and was officially declared.

In 2012 DNR met with the Seward citizens in a public meeting at the Seaview Plaza. Later in 2010 DNR did float an inflatable raft with three persons in it and claimed they carried 1,000 pounds total weight up Salmon Creek from its mouth to the Clear Creak Confluence and declared it “navigable.”

A DNR official claimed that the State of Alaska owns all streams, ancient and current, as well as all adjoining lands. This DNR official informed a local citizen, “that if a minnow can swim in it, it is navigable.”

This current DNR “navigation policy” has halted streambed mitigation on Salmon Creek, therefore affecting the entire Salmon Creek watershed.

In order to properly mitigate a streambed you must start at its mouth and work your way upstream to its source.

This issue is now in the process of a class action lawsuit by citizens in Juneau and Seward, on behalf of all Alaskans, by the Mountain States Legal Foundation. MSLF claims that DNR’s current “navigation policy” violates the Submerged Land Act (1953) an the Alaska Statehood Act (1958). Both acts are federal laws and overrule DNR’s “navigation policy.”

I am your private citizen, Bob Reisner (lifelong Alaskan) and a community of Seward resident.


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