After granting a request on June 6 to reconsider a one-year, temporary closure of a section line easement in the lower Dorothy Drive area near Homer, Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige last Thursday rescinded that closure. That reopens the section line easement while DNR considers a petition to permanently vacate the section line easement.
Feige revoked her May 10 temporary closure after local resident Roberta Highland, with 38 other people cosigning her letter, filed a request for reconsideration of that closure and Feige granted that request for reconsideration. Feige wrote that she revoked the temporary closure in response to Highland’s assertion that there had not been material evidence of risk to public safety and private property.
“This office will further evaluate existing evidence and accumulate additional evidence, should it exist, relevant to whether the section line easement at issue (the ‘SLE’) should be vacated because of concerns surrounding public safety and protection of private property,” Feige wrote. “The Department of Natural Resources will complete a full review before deciding whether to permanently vacate the SLE.”
Feige issued the temporary closure of the section line easement in response to a petition filed in July 2018 by Dorothy Drive landowners Zac Brown (under his corporate name Spotty Merle LLC, care of Southern Ground), Richard Koskovich, and Peter and Kathleen Zuyus. They asked the state to vacate about 830 feet of a section line running north-south from Plunging Way to just below Dorothy Drive between the Brown and Koskovich property and another 720 feet running along the western edge of the Zuyus lot. The petitioners cited public safety concerns for why they wanted the easement vacated, asserting that “one of the resident families has had serious stalking and threats of potential criminal trespass currently and in the past.”
A public records request by the Homer News of reports of criminal activity in the lower Dorothy Drive area over the past 18 months showed only one complaint in September 2018 when a caretaker at Brown’s home reported no-parking signs had been stolen.
That petition and the DNR temporary closure of the section line easement did not affect a 20-foot wide public pedestrian easement granted in 1996 ago by the Kenai Peninsula Borough between the Koskovich and Brown lots. That section-line easement had been vacated, but the borough kept a pedestrian easement.
In April, DNR issued a preliminary decision approving the Brown, Koskovich and Zuyus petition and sought public comments. Dorothy Drive is a dead-end street in the Gruening Vista Subdivision south of East Skyline Drive and east of Bear Canyon. In her request for reconsideration, Highland noted historic use of the area for a trail called the Mary Lane Trail. The route has changed over the years, Highland wrote, but the section line now offers the only legal pedestrian use.
In her June 20 letter, Feige found without merit Highland’s first and third points in her request for reconsideration. Highland had asserted that the public right granted by a section line easement is “a valid and existing right” which is “senior” to the landowner’s title. Highland also said the petition to vacate the easement should have been submitted to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Platting Authority.
“This office takes its duty to protect public safety and private property very seriously,” Feige wrote in her June 20 letter. “All Alaskans have a right to the safe and quiet enjoyment of their private property.”
In a June 12 email, DNR Communications Director Dan Saddler wrote that DNR will not make its final determination on permanently vacating the section line easement until the Kenai Peninsula Borough has completed its process. Saddler said that once the borough issues its decision and conditions of approval, DNR will review and make its final decision on whether to permanently vacate the section line easement.
Last week, Borough Platting Manager Scott Huff said no petition has been filed with the borough to vacate the section line easement. If such a petition were filed, it would go to the borough planning commission and then the borough assembly for review and consideration. The borough could set conditions on such a petition. Saddler said that once the borough issues its decision and conditions of approval, DNR will review and make its final decision on whether to permanently vacate the section line easement. Brown’s attorney, Blaine Gilman of Kenai, has previously said he could not comment on a client’s case.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.