July 5, 2013
Brandon McCutcheon, Project Manager
Nancy Lake SRA Planning
Resource Assessment and Development Section
Department of Natural Resources
550 W 7th Ave., Suite 1050
Anchorage, AK 99501
Dear Mr. McCutcheon:
The purpose of this letter is to offer the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the Public Review Draft of the Nancy Lake SRA Management Plan (Plan). AQRC is a state-wide non-profit organization which believes that natural sounds and natural quiet are resources of our public lands which deserve protection similar to that accorded clean water and clean air. We speak out for quiet and seek a fair and balanced allocation of our public lands for both non-motorized and motorized recreational uses. AQRC has previously commented on the scoping and alternatives phases of this planning process. Our comments are addressed to motorized access issues and do not deal with the storage and dock issues.
As general comments, we fully support the NLSRA management intent expressed as: “to maintain the high quality natural character of the majority of the area…” and the recommendations for improvements to, and new construction of, the many non-motorized trails (terra and water) as well as construction of a year-round non-motorized public use cabin. We note, and appreciate, that the Plan explicitly acknowledges the importance of natural sounds with the proposed limitations on mobility devices (p 6-19). We are critical, however, of the seeming emphasis given to providing access to property owners over the general public throughout the Plan. For example, see Chapter 3: Issues, Recreational Facility Development: “DPOR must balance the rights and interests of inholders and other property owners in the area, with the public right to access and to recreate on state land and water”. AQRC believes the public’s right to access and recreate in NLSRA must be the priority for management decisions; not just a consideration equal in weight to interests of the inholders.
We fundamentally object to this Plan, however, for its failure to make a decision concerning the issuance of Special Park Use Permits to property owners allowing highway vehicle and ORV use. Instead, what is proposed is to continue the issuance of permits (albeit at 2012 levels) to property owners until a study can be completed within five years (depending on staff and funding availability) . We note that until the Plan is approved, the “up to five year period in which to conduct the survey which is believed to be required” does not start. Assuming the Plan is approved in 2014 (before 2014 permitting is initiated) and the survey not completed until the conclusion of the five year window, means that eleven years will have elapsed since serious questions were raised about the legality and environmental costs of issuing such permits.
We object to this continuation of the status quo on several grounds:
Continued environmental damage: The Plan at p.3-5, Resource Impacts, states that “ (A)uthorized use of ORV’s on Butterfly Lake Trail is resulting in degradation of some segments of the trail tread making it difficult for hikers …”, “(I)mpacts associated with vehicle use and improper maintenance of Lynx Lake Road is contributing to the sedimentation of adjacent uplands and degradation of the road surface” and “highway vehicle and ORV’s (use) on this road has caused rutting, puddle development, and washboarding…” We believe the complaints raised to DPOR in 2008 concerning the environmental damage being caused by ORVs on the Butterfly Lake Trail led to the initiation of this planning process. The failure of the Plan to take action means that the damage to the resource will continue to increase to the detriment of hikers and homeowners who access their property by foot.
Continued appropriation of public resources: By failing to take action and continuing to issue permits for up to, say, 2019, DPOR continues to appropriate public resources (road and trail, waters and shores) for the benefit of private citizens. The research cited in the Alternatives publication indicates that no commitments were made to private property owners to insure their continued access through the SRA at the time NLSRA was created and, in fact, borough documents show that access was to be by plane, snowmachine or via a new road outside the SRA boundaries. Moreover, we believe that Special Park Use Permits granted to property owners to transit across NLSRA to property outside the boundaries of NLSRA are expressly prohibited by 11 AAC 18.010(a)(8).
Delay: We object to further delaying a decision. First, it is beyond reason to think that DPOR will have the political will or influence to limit, in any way, the permitting process after another five years plus have passed. Secondly, delaying a decision only exacerbates the issue as new property owners seek permits as was set forth in detail in the Alternatives documents. In view of the past history of granting permits, does the mere statement in the Plan that additional permits (in excess of 2012 numbers) will not be issued hold sufficient legal weight to allow DPOR to reject all such applications ? Thirdly, this planning process started in 2008 and one would think DPOR could have collected whatever data is needed to decide whether to continue, curtail or cease granting such permits. Seemingly, they should have the information needed; the regulations at 11 AAC 18.025(a)(6) require the applicant for a permit to supply a physical description and license number of each vehicle (to be) used. However, the Plan includes no data, history or analysis of the permits issued to date. The Plan only states that until a decision is made, DPOR will continue to issue such permits not to exceed the number issued in 2012, but that number is not provided. The only hard number included in the Plan is that a maximum of 6 permits for land owners on DeLyndia Lake were issued in 2012 and will be the future ceiling. In our opinion, any permits, past, present or in the future, for land owners on DeLyndia Lake are questionable since that property is outside the boundaries of NLSRA. AQRC concludes that it well may be that DPOR has not collected data over the years and must do a study to ascertain the basic facts. We strongly recommend that priority be given to conducting this study as soon as the Plan is approved for further delay only makes the issue more difficult to manage and control and the preservation of NLSRA’s natural character harder to maintain.
In regard to winter activities, we wonder if the new standard being used to determine sufficient snow cover is to be adopted for other locations and/or units of DNR. How has its reliability been tested and are other agencies using similar measurements ? We recommend that the practice of allowing restricted openings on specific trails and areas when the rest of the SRA remains closed to recreational snowmachining not be allowed unless DPOR can provide adequate enforcement. In regard to the Management Guidelines on ORVs (p. 5-10) we question how an ORVs can access the frozen surfaces of Lynx, Butterfly and Red Shirt Lakes since they are not otherwise authorized to travel in the SRA. We raise the same question in regard to highway vehicles being allowed on those same frozen surfaces.
If we have read the Plan correctly, we believe the wording about the proposed study is either misleading or simply confusing. The Issues section of the Plan discusses: access issues on Lynx Lake Road and Butterfly Lake Trail; the issuance of Special Use Park Permits permits to allow private land owners to use highway vehicles and/or ORVs on the Road and ORVs on the Trail to their properties; and the continuation of the practice until an access study is completed. However, the Goals and Objectives section of Chapter 4, Objectives 1-1, limits that study to whether DPOR should continue to authorize ORV access. ORV is defined in Appendix A to exclude highway vehicles (and snowmachines). This leads us to conclude that the study will not review the granting of Special Use Park Permits for highway vehicles for travel on Lynx Lake Road and therefore that DPOR will simply continue to grant Special Use Park Permits for private landowners utilizing motorized travel on Lynx Lake Road. This limited inquiry does not address the issue raised in the Issues section of the Plan nor our objections to the environmental damage being caused or the allocation of public resources to the benefit of a few private landowners. We recommend that you revise and clarify the scope of the study to include highway vehicle use of the Lynx Lake Road.
Finally, AQRC objects to the recommendation to redevelop the Butterfly Lake Trail as a Class 2 terra trail designed for ORV use. First, until the issue of awarding Special Use Park Permits is settled, no action can, or should, be taken on this recommendation. Secondly, we oppose the introduction of ORVs in the non-snow periods into Nancy Lake SRA on the grounds that they are totally antithetical to the natural setting recognized in its creation and which, surveys show, is highly valued by the users. We are baffled by this recommendation since we find nothing in this Plan which hints of opening the SRA to ORVs in non-snow periods and there is no ORV access to this trail except from outside the SRA.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Susan Olsen, member, Board of Directors
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition