October 17, 2013
According to a Supreme Court opinion, land that was supposed to be fly-in only was suddenly being advertised as ATV accessible. The Division of Parks tried to limit ATV access about a decade ago, but it became an access rights controversy.
In 2002, the Division set up a system where they would give out permits to private land owners if they agreed to maintain the ATV trail at their own expense. A couple hundred permits were issued. That system was supposed to limit damage to the area. But Patrick Gilmore, an attorney who represents SOP Inc. –which stands for “save our parks,” says it didn’t quite work out that way.
“Last time I was out there, the beavers had gotten into one of the ruts and were damming the drainage to it and were trying to make pond out of this road. So they just kind of made a mess of the area.”
So, SOP Inc. decided to sue, arguing that by allowing ATVs on a stretch of park terrain, you’re basically handing over the rights to the land. The Supreme Court agreed with that argument in an opinion this summer. Neither Gilmore nor the Division of Parks think the Supreme Court ruling should have an impact on ATV use in other parks.
But there was one part of the decision that wasn’t exactly narrow. In a footnote toward the end of the opinion, the Court said that because the ATV usage was having “long-term and harmful” consequences on the environment and because no permits have ever been revoked despite the damage to land, the permits in the Nancy Lake situation fail a major judicial test — a test that could come up in some other important land management cases that go way beyond parks. Again, Gilmore.
“I think the state has a real concern that this is going to impact them in some of these other cases. The biggest one that I’m aware of involves Pebble Mine.”
The lawsuit he’s referring to was filed by Nunamta Aulukestai, a group of Bristol Bay Native groups. Nunamta Aulukestai believes the state permits issued to the Pebble Limited Partnership for exploratory work are unconstitutional because they have resulted in long-term and harmful consequences to the land and can’t be revoked at will. A party close to the Pebble lawsuit said they eyed the footnote with interest, because it could impact how the court may rule in their own case.