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Stop Pebble Now

Millions of public dollars spent to dam and maintain “private” Campbell Lake

On September 20, 2019, the Alaska Landmine published an investigative article “The bizarre story of Campbell Lake, the private lake that isn’t.” In that article we reported that the State of Alaska considers Campbell Lake, long claimed to be “private” by lakeside residents, to be a public navigable waterway under State law. Now, the Landmine has learned through emails, interviews, and public records requests that millions of dollars of State and Municipal funds have been spent to dam, dredge, maintain, and engineer utilities in the “private” lake.

Decades of harassment on Campbell Lake

Following the publication of the Landmine’s initial article, many individuals reported that they have been yelled at, threatened, or escorted off of the lake by Campbell Lake residents. While some lakeside residents told the Landmine that they support community use of the lake, individual statements show a decades-long pattern of widespread and persistent conflict with the public.

Comment on Alaska Landmine article alleging harassment on Campbell Lake
Comment on Alaska Landmine article alleging harassment on Campbell Lake

Campbell Lake experiences shared by Alaska Landmine readers.

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AES

The lack of developed public access to Campbell Lake has caused particular problems for those who enter it via Campbell Creek and find themselves effectively trapped by a wall of private property. Anchorage boater Rob Pabel told the Landmine that several years ago he paddleboarded into Campbell Lake and, unable to paddle back up the creek against the current, repeatedly circled the lake looking for an exit. According to Pabel, multiple groups ignored his requests for assistance exiting the lake, and two men working on a floatplane repeatedly told Pabel, “This is a private lake.” A frustrated Pabel told the men he “just wanted to go home.” Eventually the men relented, after the three of them repeated in unison: “This is a private lake!”

Several members of the public reported harassment during winter months by Campbell Lake residents on snowmachines. On Twitter, Alaska climate scientist Brian Brettschneider reported that a resident on a snowmachine demanded that he leave the lake. According to Brettschneider, he told the snowmachiner to leave him alone. Another commenter reported being escorted off the lake by two snowmachiners who claimed to live on Campbell Lake.

Campbell Lake HOA asserts Campbell lake is “private” and has worked to block public access

The belief that Campbell Lake is private is not exclusive to a few individuals. Documents obtained by the Landmine show that for decades the Campbell Lake HOA has claimed that the lake is “private” and has been party to numerous legal agreements designed to block public access to the lake.

In 1972, the Campbell Lake HOA took ownership of the lakebed from Campbell Lake, Inc. A four-page contract listing the terms of the sale includes the stipulation that Campbell Lake Owners will not “voluntarily sell, or dedicate Campbell Lake, to the public or to public use.”

Campbell Lake HOA agreement

Excerpt from contract transferring ownership of Campbell Lake to the HOA. For the full document, click here.

A 1976 quitclaim deed between Borough-City Development Inc. and the Campbell Lake HOA establishing the HOA’s ownership of Tract A, Campbell Lake Heights Subdivision, states that the land may not be dedicated for parkland or other “public purposes.”

Campbell Lake HOA agreement

Excerpt of 1976 quitclaim between Borough-City Development, Inc. and the Campbell Lake HOA.

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AK Resource

Municipal property records list Jim Jansen, a well-known Anchorage businessman and Chairman of Lynden Transport, as the current owner of a tract of wetland spanning Campbell Creek adjacent to the Campbell Lake dam. In 2016, Jansen signed an agreement with the HOA stipulating that he will not allow public access to the lake via his property. Jansen accepted a payment of $16,900 from the Campbell Lake HOA for entering into the agreement.

Campbell Lake HOA agreement

Excerpt of 2016 agreement between Jim Jansen and the Campbell Lake HOA. To read the full agreement, click here.

But perhaps the most striking legal document involving Campbell Lake is a March 1990 “Maintenance and Access Agreement” entered into by the Campbell Lake HOA and the Municipality of Anchorage. This agreement repeatedly describes the lake as “private” and subject to “private ownership.”

Quote from agreement between Campbell Lake HOA and Municipality of Anchorage
Quote from agreement between Campbell Lake HOA and Municipality of Anchorage
Quote from agreement between Campbell Lake HOA and Municipality of Anchorage

Excerpts from contract between the Municipality of Anchorage and the Campbell Lake HOA.

Why would the Campbell Lake HOA enter into a lengthy legal contract with the Municipality of Anchorage?

As it turns out, the answer is that this 1990 agreement allowed the Campbell Lake HOA to have their “private” lake maintained, in part, at taxpayer expense. Over the following decades, Municipality of Anchorage taxpayers would spend millions of dollars on an artificial lake dedicated to the exclusive use of some of the city’s most affluent residents.

Municipality of Anchorage agrees to rebuild Campbell Lake dam and dredge lake using public funds

As previously reported by the Landmine, Campbell Lake was built by developers David Alm and George McCullough in 1959. The area flooded by the unpermitted dam was largely comprised of low-lying intertidal wetlands, and the extremely shallow nature of the lake makes it highly vulnerable to filling with aquatic plants (called macrophytes) and sediment. A 2006 Alaska Department of Fish and Game report by Mark Somerville and Megan Marie explains:

“The earthen dam that created Campbell Lake altered the sediment transport capability of Campbell Creek. Sediments normally transported to Turnagain Arm by Campbell Creek are gradually filling the lake. Campbell Lake has become shallower over time, and macrophyte growth appears to have accelerated over the past 3-5 years. Some areas of the lake have become choked with natural or introduced macrophytes, which impede boat and float plane traffic on the lake.”

In 1989, heavy rains caused the Campbell Lake dam to fail. The Campbell Lake HOA argued that the Municipality of Anchorage bore responsibility for sediment accumulation and the dam failure because the MOA had directed several storm drains into the watershed. In the 1990 contract, the Municipality agreed to bear the entire cost of engineering, permitting, and building a new “dam weir structure with over flow capacity.” Upon completion of the project, the MOA agreed to pay to cover the construction area with two inches of topsoil and wildflower seeds.

The Municipality agreed to share costs for dredging the lake in perpetuity, and not to alter the depth of the lake (per the agreement: “the Municipality will not raise or lower the lake without the Corporation’s approval”). In return, the Campbell Lake HOA would “allow” the Municipality to continue channeling water into the Campbell Creek drainage. As James Strutz, a longtime friend of George McCullough, told the Landmine: “It was an arguable case at the time, but the Muni decided it was less expensive to not argue about it in court.”

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AK Resource

According to an October 8, 2019 email from MOA Project Management & Engineering Director Kent Kohlhase, the Municipality of Anchorage spent $441,680 dredging the lake between 2004 and 2012. This money came from 2002, 2003, 2008, and 2011 Municipal bonds. Multiple Municipality of Anchorage employees told the Landmine that it would be difficult to calculate the total amount that taxpayers have spent on previous dredging efforts and the rebuilding of the Campbell Lake dam in 1990.

According to the 2006 Alaska Fish and Game report, Campbell Lake has an average depth of under five feet. During a September 28, 2019 fact-finding float on Campbell Lake, the Landmine found that portions of the lake are so shallow that they are easier to walk than paddle. Dredging the artificial lake may be a generations-long financial commitment for Anchorage taxpayers.

Alaska Landmine Creative Director Paxson Woelber standing in Campbell Lake.

The Campbell Lake HOA has also paid a considerable amount of money toward dredging efforts via assessments on the 168 properties bordering the lake. According to Kohlhase’s October 8 email, the Campbell Lake HOA contributed $150,000 to 2004-2012 dredging efforts and property owners were assessed a further $1,433,486 (approximately $8,533 per property). On September 30, 2019 the Landmine emailed Campbell Lake HOA property manager Leo to inquire about the assessments. Our message was not returned.

State of Alaska funds used to maintain Campbell Lake

The State of Alaska has also dedicated public money for projects on the lake.

The Landmine uncovered a capital appropriation in Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 for $80,000 for “Campbell Lake Dam Erosion.” This appropriation was vetoed by then-Governor Frank Murkowski. However, it was added back just two years later in the FY 2006 budget in a $73,895 re-appropriation. Murkowski did not veto the re-appropriation. According to the MOA, $73,895 of State money was spent on a dredging project that began in 2004 and ended in 2012.

The State of Alaska has also spent public money conducting dam reviews, studying fish populations, and conducting other efforts related to the lake. The Landmine was informed that calculating the sum of these expenses would be prohibitively difficult.

The Landmine also discovered a FY 1994 capital appropriation for $100,000 for “Campbell Lake Area Trunk Repair Rehabilitation.” The budget description reads:

It is the intent of the legislature that funding of the Municipality of Anchorage AWWU C-S-7 Trunk Project be matched with FY94 matching funds from the Department of Environmental Conservation Natural Resource Management Fifty Percent Municipal Matching Grants Program to the Municipality of Anchorage for Water/Wastewater/Solid Waste Facilities Design and Construction.

This appropriation was made in conjunction with the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) and the Department of Environmental Conservation to repair a sewage line that runs under the lake.

Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) spends millions on Campbell Lake project

In spring 2019, Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU), a utility owned and operated by the Municipality of Anchorage, spent $2.5 million draining Campbell Lake and re-anchoring a sewer main dislodged by the November 30, 2018 earthquake. The Landmine requested information from AWWU related to 2019 expenditures and operations on Campbell Lake.

AWWU Public Outreach Coordinator Sandra Baker told the Landmine that “AWWU’s infrastructure is not directly related to the lake and the dam… This trunk line is part of the regional benefit, and not specific to Campbell Lake residents.”

The Landmine was surprised by the claim that a multimillion-dollar project involving the lake and dam was “not directly related to the lake and the dam.” We responded by citing an April 29, 2019 KTUU news segment that shows AWWU operating heavy machinery to open the dam’s gates and using pumps to drain the lake. The segment reports that AWWU staff went out in boats to chip ice off of the surface of the lake, and features Baker standing in front of an excavator at the Campbell Lake dam. A May 3, 2019 KTVA news segment shows heavy machinery and pumps removing “millions of gallons of water” from the lake. An April 30, 2019 ADN article title states that, “The utility put divers in the water to make sure there weren’t any other problems with the sewer line, and verified that there weren’t any leaks, Baker said.”

AWWU working on Campbell Lake

Screenshot of KTUU news segment showing AWWU-operated machinery lifting gates to the Campbell Lake dam.

Baker was adamant that these expenses were unrelated to the lake per se:

“The expenditure was caused by the earthquake. AWWU runs pipes underground and sometimes that means the pipes go under roads or lakes or other locations which may be difficult to get at. Had this pipe been located under a road, say Northern Lights Boulevard, we would have had expenditures related to the closing road, diverting traffic and repairing the road.”

How much public money has been sunk into “private” Campbell Lake?

Multiple Municipal employees, State employees, and property law experts told the Landmine that it would be nearly impossible to determine exactly how much public money has been spent since 1959 on projects related to Campbell Lake. These expenditures span decades and come from a wide variety of sources. It is clear that a great deal of public money has been spent damming, maintaining, and conducting a variety of projects on and around Campbell Lake–all while the public has been routinely excluded from accessing or using it. Exactly how much money the public has spent on Campbell Lake projects will likely never be determined.

Why has the Municipality of Anchorage declined to develop access to Campbell Lake, even after spending millions of public dollars there? Why has the State of Alaska, which aggressively defends access rights in many other situations, apparently neglected to assert a public right to utilize the lake?

The Landmine will address these questions in a follow-up article. This is a developing story.

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Janna Stewart

Great research, folks! keep it up!

Anne

Thank you for this. I am infuriated that my taxpayer dollars have gone to the maintenance of a lake that I am not “allowed” to access. This lake should be opened to public access *immediately*.

Greg

I had a feeling that this would happen with the tax dollars and bonds from the city. When housing like that is around a natural feature they’ll claim it’s theirs and no one is allowed in. When something detrimental happens to that area they’ll cry for help and want something done about it immediately even before the event happened. What the state could do is charge them for the stocking of the fish into the lake or even the stream. If the residents partake in fishing activities on “their” private lake, then they can pay for the stocking let alone… Read more »

Donna

This is evolving story is one of the best pieces of actual JOURNALISM I’ve ever read. I appreciate the lengths you all are going for this information… SOA needs to make public access areas to Campbell Lake. I agree with previous comments – sign me up for the Riff Raff float of summer 2020!

Ivan Moore

Heck, Riff Raff Snowshoe Race 2019!!

Shazbot

There are only a couple undeveloped plats. Good luck getting the city to buy one of them! The most obvious location is the SE corner owned by 7-3 FOXTROT LLC.

Shazbot

Have you seen that “public easement”? Drive by sometime…there is a huge fence and a ton of landscaping. It would feel more like you are trespassing on the Von Imhof property as you navigate your way through their landscaping. Even if the city developed that “easement” there would be nowhere to park. It is a joke of a “public” lake.

cayjr

Public easement is public, it is not at the whim of a Senator. And, the Senator holds a PUBLIC position. Enough of this self imposed access restriction by a group of elitists! Tea party anyone?

Dan Dunaway

Still wish Fish and Game would weigh in on the killing off of salmon access to Campbell Creek. King salmon used to spawn in it.

Chris Bowden

Dan, When I worked for ADF&G on fisheries in Campbell Lake and Campbell Creek. The private land owners around the lake were the greatest poaching threat to the limited king salmon return that came through the lake. Chris B.

Maureen

I thought the definition of a pond as different from a lake is that a pond is shallow enough for sun to feed plants that then grow from the bottom. Not a lake.

Jason

Since reading this I have been looking over the public listings for property around the lake. Seems like quite a few of them are owned by “Trusts”. Anyone smart about property law who can explain this? Is it a way for people to be in a lower tax bracket? A means to avoid liability on the property?

Shazbot

It is most likely do to variations of family ownership or to separate the asset from the rest of an individuals assets. The first one often occurs when a family member wants to leave property to multiple heirs. I am not aware of any property tax benefit. I would think the property would be assessed and tax the same but the tax bill would be the responsibility of the trust versus individuals.

Nunya Bidness

It’s a way to avoid probate and any possibility of public knowledge about your estate. It also has tax and Medicaid end of life care look-back advantages.

Eugene

Makes me feel good about voting “yes” on those muni bonds…that got directed to fixing a “private” lake.

lyndsey smith

I can’t wait for someone to get hit by an airplane because they don’t know to stay out of the middle of the lake. Although the lake is a public use waterway, the land is all PRIVATE. I personally wouldn’t want to be on a lake where there is no public land to access. Makes for bailing out during an emergency much more difficult, don’t you think? Sure, bring your bullshit red neck yacht club parties to the lake. But my advice is you better be good swimmers. The planes have the right away. Good luck to all of the… Read more »

Chris

Incorrect Lyndsey, please refer to 14 CFR PART 91, SECTION 91.115. It’s the responsibility of both the aircraft and the vessel to maintain clearance from each other, and usually leans to more responsibility towards the more maneuverable vehicle. Furthermore, public safety isn’t “the only issue.” The Muni has been footing a lot of the bill for maintaining this private lake. Please read the whole article and do a bit more research before slandering others and calling them idiots in a public forum.

Ed White

Chris – I don’t think the article has enough information. I went back and reread it. Muni spent $515,575 and the residents spent $1.43MM, Give or take a $100K ether way. I did not include the sewer line maintenance since muni would have paid the same for a street repair. What we don’t know is the miscellaneous undocumented cost each side spent; although I would hope our muni has better records than ” I don’t know where the money went”.

lyndsey smith

It’s a public forum, therefor the public may say what they wish. The whole investigative journalism aspect of this entire thing is a joke. I have attended enough lake specific meetings to know the exact facts. No research required actually. The amount of public funds spent to maintain are a drop in the bucket in comparison to what the homeowners are paying. There are countless ways this lake boosts the municipalities economy. The bigger picture is not identified anywhere in any of the current circulations and the dollar figures are exaggerated, un inclusive of private contributions, or incorrect altogether. Then… Read more »

Bill Jenson

Oh please, stop with the hyperbole! There are dozens of lakes where seaplanes and watercraft operate without issues. Jewel Lake, Mirror Lake etc. Airnav lists Aircraft operations: avg 24/week which is less than 4 operations a day on average. I know you desperately want to keep the commoners and riff-raff out of your “private” playground, but that is coming to an end, no matter how desperately you try and spin it.

And BTW this is a privately owned website/blog, ie, not the government so you have no right to free speech here, or on any website. Good grief.

Vince

Lindsay, this isn’t a question of who has put more money into the lake. The question is why do the entitled landowners around the lake think it’s ok to have public funds help pay for lake related costs, but dont want the public to access it? If you dont want public access then you can’t expect public funds… that really is beside the point since we are talking about a public navigable waterway. Bringing up safety concerns is a weak attempt at an argument against public access. Alaska is home to thousands of lakes where aircraft, watercraft, and people recreate… Read more »

cayjr

Wahhhhhh! Gees Louise. What part of public do you not understand. Your ridiculous hyperbole has now made me want to track this illegal seizure of public lands and self confessed contamination of a waterway with native salmon runs by “avgas” until the will of the public prevails. Maybe we should have a 4th of July, Independence Day, party on The lake. We can put a map showing public right of way online and cover the lake with boats.

Shazbot

I know, right? It is so hard these days to live off grand daddy’s money in peace!

Ed White

Does public mean the muni will then have to maintain the lake and bear the full bill for a dam and dredging? On the bright side AF&G will have to make fishing in the lake legal. Once Campbell is public can we have a float party on Lake Hood too; what’s the difference? Muni is maintaining a “private lake” for a bunch of airplane owners? I have not seen public access on Lake Hood and I am sure my tax dollars are being used there. And why did the muni run a sewer line through a Salmon spawning area? Sounds… Read more »

smolt

Ed, ADF&G doesn’t have the authority to “make fishing in the lake legal”, that authority rests with the Board of Fish. If you want to see an open fishery on the lake you can petition the Board just like anyone else.

cayjr

FAR 91.115 Right-of-way rules: Water operations. (a) General. Each person operating an aircraft on the water shall, insofar as possible, keep clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation, and shall give way to any vessel or other aircraft that is given the right-of-way by any rule of this section. (b) Crossing. When aircraft, or an aircraft and a vessel, are on crossing courses, the aircraft or vessel to the other’s right has the right-of-way. (c) Approaching head-on. When aircraft, or an aircraft and a vessel, are approaching head-on, or nearly so, each shall alter its course to the… Read more »

Rachael Gaedeke

The work you’re putting into this story is much appreciated. It’s a cover up that desperately needs to be revealed.

cayjr

Apparently the rich have the right to force the public to expend taxpayer funds to maintain a public waterway, that being Campbell Creek, the dam on the creek, the lake formed by the creek and to keep the public from accessing public right of way to the public lake!

Ethics

This is all very good information, but I don’t see an ethical disclosure stating that Jeff ran against Campbell Lake resident (and named in the article) Natasha von Imhof and lost in the 2016 Republican primary. Everyone should know about this abuse of taxpayer dollars, but it would be far more ethical and cleaner if the author of this post would just state that he’s gone head to head with her before.

Doug

Why would anyone want to go out on this lake anyway? Float planes are by far the least maneuverable craft so you would constantly have to get out of their way. There is an easement to get to the lake, so why is there even a discussion about it being “private”?

Zach

It happens to be at the end of Campbell creek, where thousands of people float down every summer.

State your fact. And prepare to back it up with a link or a document locate.
Where is the easement to the lake, Doug?

Jimmy

HOA, didn’t you read the first article posted by Landfield and Woelber? That article contained a figure showing a plat of von Imhoff’s lot and the adjacent lot to the east clearly identifying a “public access easement” and a section line easement that provide a route from 100th Avenue to the lake. The article also included a copy of the final finding regarding the von Imhoff’s easement vacation request, which specified that a 25 foot wide public access easement across the von Imhoff’s lot as a condition of vacating the portion of the section line easement on their lot.

Ellen Varosi

The acreage behind your back door, while living on a lake, is both expansive and valuable. Yet to assume that it is your private holding, is a complete thinking error. The suspension of disbelief is clearly over for the members of the Campbell Lake HOA.