Snowmachine easement case settled — finally
That’s the final number and detail in a 14-year dispute between members of the Snomads snowmachine club and an East End Road landowner, Tom Price Jr.
In Eastham et al. v. Price, a case dating back to May 1999, the court ruled in November that the width of a prescriptive easement going through Price’s 160-acre parcel should be 16-feet wide. That and other issues had been the last details of a case that went to the Alaska Supreme Court three times and kept being sent back to lower courts for resolution.
Homer attorney Michael Hough represented the plaintiffs, Eastham et al. Snomads member Mike Eastham was the first name listed of 90 members suing Price.
“I guess it’s the best we can get. I’m grateful for my last attorney’s assistance on it,” Tom Price Jr. said of his attorney, Scott Brandt-Erichsen of Ketchikan. “Thank God for him he got it settled. I can’t take it any longer.”
The Snomads originally filed the suit in 1999 against Price seeking an easement along an old seismic trail running from McNeil Canyon to Caribou Lake through Price’s property. Because the club hadn’t been in existence more than 10 years, Judge Harold Brown, now retired, ruled the Snomads didn’t have standing.
They refiled as a group of snowmachiners.
Brown granted the easement as well as a highway right-of-way under the RS-2477 title of U.S. law that recognizes pre-statehood historic mining and other trails in Alaska. In an appeal, the Alaska Supreme Court rejected the RS-2477 claim.
At one point, Price almost lost his property in an auction to pay off his share of court and attorney fees charged against him. He paid off the $14,662.08 bill in 2004 and kept his land and house.
The final settlement includes the Alaska Department of Natural Resources as a party to the case. The easement will vest with the state. DNR taking responsibility for the easement is the most positive thing to happen since 2003, Brandt-Erichsen said. It addresses issues like who has authority over the easement, he said.
“That’s something the state can do, but some amorphous public can’t,” Brandt-Erichsen said. “That was the really positive thing about getting the state involved.”
Other provisions of the settlement are:
• The easement is permanent and perpetual, subject to seasonal limitations and restrictions;
• The plaintiffs, Eastham et al., will do a survey of the 16-foot wide easement;
• The easement shall be limited to winter recreational use from about Nov. 1 to March 31 and is dependent on adequate snow cover;
• All forms of motorized and nonmotorized winter recreational use are allowed, including snowmachines, skiing and off-road vehicles;
• No snowmachine races are allowed;
• Users will honor a 35 mph speed limit; and
• Price can post “give away” signs outside the easement informing users that leaving the easement is trespassing.
Price said he won’t put signs up, though
“I ain’t going to put any up,” Price said. “All they’ve ever done is shoot them down.”
Steve Parizek, president of the Snomads, said the club will inform its members of the conditions of the settlement. He said surveyors were working last week on identifying the easement.
The Snomads has several club member parking lots on East End Road, one on property leased from the Jones family southwest of Price’s property, and another northeast of Price’s property at Basargin Road and East End Road. Parizek said the Snomads used to groom the section of trail going through Price’s property, but quit doing so while the case was ongoing.
“The bottom line is, it’s over,” Parizek said. “The community needs to get past and work toward a good solution.”
The 16-foot easement restriction addresses a complaint Price had with snowmachiners over the years, that some would go off the easement and near his house, riding fast and harassing him. Enforcing that by identifying trespassers is challenging, Brandt-Erichsen said.
“One of the difficulties is when the guys are circling his house, circling around, they’re all wearing helmets. What are you going to do? They all look alike,” he said. “You need the other riders to police each other.”
That’s something the Snomads as a group would help with, Hough said.
“If somebody buzzes by Price’s house or bothers him, the Snomads would be the first to help him. They don’t want people wandering off the trail or bothering Price,” Hough said. “That’s why the Snomads wanted to get some publicity on the order so the public would know the rules people agreed upon.”
Ironically, even with the Price easement the Snomads don’t have a clear trail from McNeil Canyon on either side of Price’s property. Parizek said there are easement issues with other private and public landowners, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
“We’ll be working with other landowners on those, both private and public,” Parizek said. “Hopefully we’ll get this resolved amicably.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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