Interior Alaska landowners sue state over fires on private land

Interior Alaska landowners sue state over fires on private land

02 September 2010

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USA — Private landowners want the state to pay damages for timber and foliage blighted when firefighters back-burned in an effort to stop wildfires southwest of Nenana last year.

The property owners have lots in the Dune Lake, Totek Lake and Teklanika Channel Lake subdivisions. The subdivisions surround small lakes in the flatlands west of the Teklanika River, off the road system.

Cindy Walker, Charles and Margaret Gray and the William Brewer family are asking the state for at least $100,000 in each of four lawsuits. William Brewer II owns most of the affected land — more than 30 lots. Charles Gray is a former publisher of the News-Miner.

“The point is, what’s a piece of burned-out property worth versus a piece of beautiful lakeside property?” said Bill Satterberg, who is representing the landowners. “You can’t just go around destroying people’s property and not pay for it.”

The lawsuits were filed in Superior Court at the Rabinowitz Courthouse this week. The state has not responded. Efforts to get a comment from the Alaska Department of Law were unsuccessful.

According to court filings, the wildfires involved were the Railbelt Complex Fires that burned west of Nenana in 2009.

The landowners claim the state failed to mop up after rains doused the fires and the fires re-ignited. The state decided to light back-fires on private property to create a fire line, suppressing the wildfires.

The back-fires destroyed timber and foliage on the private property, decreasing the properties’ value, according to the lawsuit.

Lighting the back-fires amounted to taking the land under eminent domain “for which just compensation is due under Article I, section 18 of the Alaska Constitution,” the court complaint stated.

“They basically scorched their property,” Satterberg said. “The only thing that didn’t get burned down were the cabins.”

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