Update: The story has been corrected to note that Bureau of Land Management land is to the west of the Dorothy Drive area property.
A day after public comments closed on a preliminary decision to vacate a section line easement that goes through the Dorothy Drive neighborhood below East Skyline Drive near the bluff above Homer, on May 10 the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources issued a decision temporarily closing that section line easement.
In her decision, Commissioner Corri Feige wrote she closed the section line easement “in order to protect public safety, public and private property.”
“Recent vandalism reported caused by individuals or parties of individuals accessing the petitioners’ private property has caused the petitioners to request the closure of this SLE (section line easement) while the Division considers the petitioners’ request to vacate the SLE,” Feige wrote.
Dorothy Drive landowners Zac Brown (under his corporate name Spotty Merle Inc.), Richard Koskovich, and Peter and Kathleen Zuyus had petitioned the state to vacate about 830 feet of a section line running north-south from Plunging Way to Dorothy Drive between the Brown and Koskovich property and another 720 feet running along the western edge of the Zuyus lot. In April, DNR issued a preliminary decision approving that petition. Dorothy Drive is in the Bear Canyon area.
The petitioners in the summer of 2018 had sought to vacate the lower end of Dorothy Drive, but withdrew their application with the borough.
In her decision, Feige cited her authority under Alaska Statute 38.04.058 to place restrictions on easements or right-of-way use. That law says the commissioner can restrict use if it “is narrowly tailored to achieve the protection of public safety and property while preserving access to the maximum extent practicable.”
DNR sought comments on the preliminary decision, with the comment period closing May 9. DNR Communications Director Dan Saddler said DNR received 86 total comments, with 78 against vacating the easement and seven for vacating the easement. One commenter urged a negotiation on the issue.
Feige issued the temporary closure for up to one year, but it would be superseded by a final decision on the petition.
A 425-foot long, 10-foot wide Kenai Peninsula Borough pedestrian easement runs between the Brown and Koskovich lots. The DNR closure does not affect that easement. To vacate that easement, the petitioners would have to go to the Kenai Peninsula Borough. According to Scott Huff of the borough platting office, no such petition has been filed.
The petitioners cited public safety concerns for vacating the 30-foot wide section line. Brown is a celebrity through his fame as a country-western singer. He has built about a 7,200-square-foot home assessed at about $860,000, according to online borough records.
“Allowing random individual criminal elements unfettered access to residential homes, the owners of which feel is unconscionable,” the petitioners wrote for why they wanted the section line vacated. “One of the resident families has had serious stalking and threats of potential criminal trespass currently and in the past. The section line easement is being used as a means of enforcing those threats.”
Regarding the vandalism referenced in Feige’s decision, Saddler wrote in an email, “We don’t know if the vandalism was reported or not. If it was reported to the troopers, they would have that information.”
In an email from Alaska Department of Public Safety spokesperson Megan Peters, Peters wrote that “Sergeant (Daniel) Cox does not recall any vandalism cases out there; he only recalls trespassing issues,” Peters said. Cox is the head of the Anchor Point Post, E Detachment, Alaska State Troopers.
The Homer News filed a public records request with the troopers regarding any recent reports of crime in the lower Dorothy Drive area, but at press time the troopers had not responded.
In a phone call, Peter Zuyus declined to speak on the record regarding the issue.
The Dorothy Drive easements relate to a historic trail, the Mary Lane Trail. According to a 1994 Homer Public Library Top Drawer Collection book by Ohlson Mountain Road resident Milli Martin, “The Mary Lane Trail: History and Use,” the trail dates back to at least 1917. At that time Jack Dietz used a trail along Bear Canyon to get from his homestead near Wasabi’s on East End Road to hunt moose in the area. Martin cites more than 62 people who used the trail up until 1994 when she wrote her book.
According to borough online parcel records, Brown or Spotty Merle Inc. owns land on both sides of the proposed section line easement below Dorothy Drive. He also owns property at the end of Dorothy Drive. A large tract of federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management is to the west of the Dorothy Drive neighborhood, but it is not accessible by the section line temporarily closed by DNR.
People affected by Feige’s decision to temporarily close the section line can request reconsideration by making a request within 20 days of the date of the issuance, May 10. Requests can be sent to Commissioner, Department of Natural Resources, 550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 1400, Anchorage AK, 99501; faxed to 907-269-8918; or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a $200 fee to file an appeal or request for reconsideration.
The closure goes into effect on May 31 if a reconsideration is not requested or Feige does not order reconsideration on her own. If Feige does not act on reconsideration within 30 days, the temporary closure can then be appealed to Superior Court.