Fairbanks trail advocates again need to speak up in support of the Comprehensive Trails Plan update this week.
The Fairbanks Borough Assembly will be dealing with the plan at its Thursday, June 8, meeting. (Unfortunately, another controversial topic, the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, will be addressed at the same meeting and is on the agenda right before the Trails Plan. I suspect it will be a long meeting.) See the agenda HERE.
While there will be no public hearing specifically for the Trails Plan, people can comment during the Citizen’s Comment section at the beginning of the meeting. However, be aware that that comment period recesses at 6:50pm and doesn’t start again until later in the meeting, which will be after the Trails Plan is dealt with. So, if you want to speak get signed up early. You can testify in person or by phone. Find out how HERE. (That page also gives information on how to listen to the Assembly meeting via Zoom, live webcast, or KUAC radio.)
OTHER WAYS TO COMMENT
You can also comment to the Assembly via email or phone. The contact page is HERE. If you don’t plan to attend the meeting, please do this.
PLATTING BOARD RECOMMENDATIONS
What’s new this time are recommendations from the Platting Board. In February, the Assembly referred the plan to the Platting Board with the instructions to “provide at least three alternative ways of connecting A and B trails without forcing landowners to give up their property through the platting process.” (The assembly also wanted a better map that showed trails and property lines, but that was not a controversial topic.)
The borough administration came up with several recommendations, which the Platting Board approved and forwarded to the Assembly. See my post about that HERE.
TRAIL ADVOCATES SHOULD SUPPORT THE RECOMMENDATIONS
I believe trail advocates should support the recommendations forwarded by the Platting Board. I don’t believe any are particularly controversial. I think the Assembly will support them, but if you support them – and passage of the trail plan update in general – please let the Assembly know.
Unfortunately, I don’t think a majority of the Assembly will believe the recommendations go far enough to satisfy their concerns about protecting property rights. I wrote about their concerns in this POST.
A POSSIBLE COMPROMISE?
I have been pondering this problem for quite a while. I have come up with a possible compromise solution. Below is an email I sent to the Assembly earlier today. I am unsure if people will think my proposal lacks any real substance and doesn’t change the current law or if people will think it goes too far in giving the Platting Board power to grant a variance. In the end, I’m not sure it would change anything regarding the powers of the Platting Board. But I’m just trying to find a compromise solution that would allow the Assembly to pass the Trails Plan update while still protecting both the rights of trail users and private property owners.
Anyway, take a look and see what you think.
Dear Assembly Members,
I know you have a tough meeting coming up on June 8. I don’t envy you. Thank you very much for serving.
One of the issues before you will again be the Comprehensive Trails Plan with the recommendations from the Platting Board. I like the recommendations. I think most of you will agree with them or at least most of them. But I am confident many of you do not believe the recommendations go far enough to address your concerns.
I have been pondering this for quite a while and I may have a possible compromise solution, though I don’t know how viable it is. Before I give you my suggestion, let me explain my reasoning.
I think many of you still have concerns about Title 17 and the requirement for landowners to give an easement for trails in the Trail Plan when subdividing land. Assemblywoman Wilson brought this up at the Platting Board meeting. While there, she again brought up the situation of a landowning couple wanting to subdivide land to give to their children and that the trails easement requirement might cause problems regarding how that might work out. To my knowledge this has never come up, but nonetheless that is a powerful scenario and I sympathize with those concerns.
But let me paint another scenario if the trails requirement were stripped from Title 17. A large Outside corporation with no concern for local traditions buys land from a large landowner in the borough (such as the State, University or Native corporation). Across that land runs a well-used trail that currently has no easement. The trail has been used for generations by local Alaskans for a variety of activities, such as mushing, snowmachining, hiking, hunting, accessing a trapline, and collecting mushrooms, berries and birch bark. The Outside corporation subdivides the land and ignores pleas to keep the trail open for the public to continue using it. The land is subdivided, developed, and the trail is lost to the local citizens.
I suspect that many of you who are opposed to the Title 17 requirement would not like the scenario I painted. You would be more sympathetic to local traditional use over an Outside corporation’s desire to make money. Unfortunately, changing the Title 17 requirement would affect ALL landowners, not just that couple wanting to subdivide land for their children.
I don’t know how likely my particular scenario is, but I do know many of the long-used trails in the Trails Plan cross lands owned by large government or corporate landowners and that some of those trails don’t currently have easements. The loss of those trails is a very real possibility if the easement requirement is stripped from Title 17.
While watching the Platting Board debate this issue, the thought occurred to me that perhaps there could be a process clearly outlined in the law that would make it easier for local landowners to appeal the trail easement requirement and ask for a variance.
I know that a variance from the easement requirement is possible. It was done not long ago regarding a subdivision of University of Alaska land, some of which was eventually included in Creamer’s Field Wildlife Refuge. But after reading through Title 17, I don’t think most regular landowners know that they can ask for a variance. And I don’t know under which circumstances a variance can be granted.
But I don’t think a variance should be granted easily, otherwise any corporation wanting to subdivide and develop land will ask for the variance. Plus, the decision on granting a variance should be kept in the hands of regular local citizens, like those that serve on the Platting Board and Assembly. I would feel better about local citizens, rather than corporate lawyers, trying to balance traditional trail use against the rights of private property owners.
So, below is my suggested solution to be included in Title 17. Clearly, it would have to be cleared by the borough law department.
“If after working with borough staff the landowner still feels the trail easement would cause an undue burden, then the landowner may ask the Platting Board to grant a variance from the easement requirement that would mitigate or eliminate the burden.”
I’m not sure this would satisfy those of you who are opposed to the Title 17 requirement. And maybe that is too vague or would open up the process to too many variables. To be honest, just suggesting this makes me nervous. But it is the best compromise I can think of that keeps the Title 17 requirement but allows for the ability of landowners — from small families to large corporations — to appeal the requirement and leave the decision in the hands of local citizens.
Thank you again for your service,