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Gross

State of Alaska, Municipality of Anchorage issue joint statement: Campbell Lake is a public lake

After months of sustained public interest in Campbell Lake following the publication of “The bizarre story of Campbell Lake, the private lake that isn’t,” the State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) issued a joint statement today regarding public use and access to Campbell Lake. The statement affirms that the waters of Campbell Lake “are held by the State of Alaska pursuant to the public trust doctrine for the benefit of the people,” and that members of the public have a right to access and use Campbell Lake, including the lakebed, “for any lawful use.”

According to the statement, Campbell Lake residents, who have long claimed ownership and exclusive control over the lake, are prohibited from interfering with public use:

As discussed above, the [State of Alaska] manages the waters of Campbell Lake pursuant to the public trust doctrine. Citizens are therefore entitled to use the water for recreation or any other lawful purpose. Landowners abutting the shores of Campbell Lake and CLO cannot lawfully restrict the public’s rights of use pursuant to Alaska law.

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One Alaska 1

According to the statement, those who attempt to interfere with free public use of Campbell Lake may be subject to criminal charges under AS 38.05.128, which prohibits the obstruction of navigable waterways.

The statement notes that there are four ways for the public to access Campbell Lake: by boating (or skiing) into it via Campbell Creek, landing in an aircraft, traveling overland via an easement on the south side of the lake, or traveling overland via an easement on the north side of the lake. The document states that the Department of Natural Resources, which manages section line easements, has never authorized private obstructions in these easements.

The statement can be read in full below:

Joint Statement

Campbell Lake within the Municipality of Anchorge

Ownership, Use and Access
December 6, 2019

Click on the thumbnail to read the full State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage joint statement in PDF format.

Joint Statement on Cambpell Lake

“Private” Campbell Lake

Campbell Lake was created when Anchorage residents David Alm and George McCullough dammed the wetlands at the mouth of Campbell Creek in the late 1950s, thereby increasing the value of land that they owned around the newly-created lake. According to the joint statement by the State and MOA, McCullough appears to have dammed the creek without a permit–a common practice at the time. Jim Strutz, a longtime local resident and friend of McCullough, told the Landmine in a September 2019 call that for years, huge mats of organics from the flooded wetland would float to the surface of the lake. According to Strutz, McCullough paddled around the lake and tied rocks to the mats to sink them back to the bottom.

Since its creation, Campbell Lake residents have vigorously asserted that the lake is privately owned and operated for the exclusive enjoyment of lakefront residents and their invited guests.

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Union Yes

As previously reported by the Landmine, the Campbell Lake HOA crafted numerous legal agreements designed to prevent the public from accessing or using the lake. Campbell Lake HOA and MOA legal documents dating back decades refer to Campbell Lake as a “private lake.” Meanwhile, the Campbell Lake HOA sought and received millions of dollars of public funds to rebuild the dam, dredge the lake, and engineer public utilities around the lake.

For decades, members of the public who ventured onto Campbell Lake faced harassment by some lakeside property owners. After our initial story, numerous individuals reported that they had been yelled at on the lake, told that they were trespassing, and even informed that they would be escorted off of the lake by residents.

Between 2002 and 2006, now-Senator Natasha von Imhof and husband Rudi von Imhof petitioned the State and MOA to eliminate a little-known public access easement to Campbell Lake crossing their lakeside estate. To support their petition, the von Imhofs hired DOWL Engineering Director of Planning Timothy C. Potter, who made a number of highly questionable statements about lakeside topography, public use of the lake, and the purpose of section line easements. The MOA supported the elimination of the easement, but the State of Alaska only agreed to modify it.

‘There’s a lot of rich and powerful people here’

For decades, individuals at both the State and MOA have occasionally questioned the “private” status of Campbell Lake.

In 1975, Department of Law Legal Intern Mike Sewright was tasked with reviewing the status of Campbell Lake during the subdivision of a lakeside tract. Sewright disagreed with a 1968 legal memorandum that, he believed, had erroneously determined that Campbell Lake was private. According to Sewright, the waters of Campbell Lake were public per both statute and the Alaska State Constitution:

Sewright’s memorandum appears to have been either overruled or ignored, and public access was not created at that time.

In a September 25, 2019 call, former Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Phil Brna told the Landmine that, decades ago, he had been tasked with reviewing permits for the Campbell Lake dam. He realized that the dam had never been permitted and that the “private” status of Campbell Lake was dubious:

“I raised [the issue] with Fish and Game leadership, I don’t even remember who I talked to at the time, but it was made pretty clear… I don’t even remember by who, ‘that that’s not something we’re gonna get involved with.’ The reason was, I think it was just implied, it was just pretty much kinda like ‘There’s a lot of rich and powerful people here, and we’re not gonna do that.'”

More recently, members of the public have periodically questioned the legal status of Campbell Lake online, in comments on news articles and sites such as TripAdvisor:

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Young

Public comments on TripAdvisor and ADN.com

Joint statement answers existing questions–and raises new ones

The joint statement made today by the State and MOA clarifies several important questions about Campbell Lake access and use. It states that the artificial nature of the lake does not alter the applicability of navigable waterway laws, and that the HOA’s claim to own the lakebed has no bearing on ordinary public enjoyment of either the lake surface or the lakebed. It states that while lakeside residents are entitled to full private property rights, public use of the lake itself cannot constitute trespass.

In addition to answering existing questions, the statement presents new and challenging issues. The document confirms the legality of the public access easement crossing the von Imhof and Frost properties on the south side of the lake, and also notes that the easement extends to the north side of the lake, where it connects Campbell Lake with the south termination of Jewel Lake Road. It appears that a private home has been constructed in this portion of the section line easement. Municipal records indicate that the home was built in 1976.

The statement also notes that required safety inspections for the dam, which is jointly owned by the MOA and Campbell Lake HOA, have apparently not been conducted this year. The previous Certificate of Approval to Operate a Dam expired on September 6, 2019.

Although the State and MOA have now confirmed the legality of public access and use of Campbell Lake, existing access is clearly deficient for routine public use. The easement on the south side of the lake remains undeveloped and encumbered by a private float plane dock, while the easement on the north side of the lake appears to be blocked by a house.

Things are about to get REAL loose.

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Tom Tomasi
5 months ago

I can see a Supreme Court getting involved into this obviously the home owners being Rich and powerful will take action to stop us from accessing the lake I hope that the state fights for us people not the Rich And powerful like most of the time called the good old boys club

Friendly Resident
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Tomasi

Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Sure, there it may be legal to access Campbell Lake but the public hasn’t paid its fair share to maintain the lake and doesn’t know how to interact around float planes. There are thousands of other lakes in Alaska, please leave this one to the folks who have lived around it and paid to maintain it for over a generation

Helpful Nighbor
5 months ago

The public interacts with float planes on countless other lakes throughout the state. State and Municipal tax dollars have paid for may improvements in and around the lake as well. The facts are these: 1. You don’t own the lake 2. The public has as much right to access and use the lake as the owners 3. The HOA had a good run illegally restricting access to a public resource but it’s time to accept the reality that the lake is not yours to own or control. A smart HOA would get ahead of this and work out mutually agreeable… Read more »

Mr Entitlement
5 months ago

Ahh yes, queue the elitist commentary. You mean the state and public utilities have maintained, using public tax dollars? Take your entitlement elsewhere, residents owe Campbell Lake homeowners nothing. I’m going to make it my personal hobby of bathing in Campbell Lake this summer. Keep your camera handy. 🙂

respectful resident
5 months ago

Might be a good time to start charging parking fees like they do in the parks, that can go towards developing better public access and education for the public. I’m sure that the parks department could use some funding to to public outreach on how to “properly interact with airplanes”, and know where the public access is legally, also that harassment by homeowners is illegal and how to respond if there is a conflict. I think these are good talking points. Charge a parking fee, more education, more funding, and develop the easements, the lake is open season for the… Read more »

Bob LakeStormer
5 months ago

Yeah It’s called the property taxes I already pay….

5 months ago

You guys must be smarter than this you have never been able to own any waterways . Whether it be by River lake or ocean I believe there’s a 20 ft easement around all waterways. Its intent was not for enjoyment more for safety in emergencies. I own property on a lake myself and I understand that you want it to yourself but that’s just not realistic. All the lakes in Anchorage should have accessible public Access and I don’t mean a crappie trail.

5 months ago

Did you Not read where Public Funds were used to build ,maintenance, and dredging????

Jason
5 months ago

I would love to see all the “paid” receipts.

MAK
5 months ago

State $$ has been spent to maintain the dam, not the HOA $$. Also, it is a huge, not to mention rude, assumption to state that the public doesn’t know how to interact around float planes.

I live here too
5 months ago

I’m assuming you live there and don’t want riff raft (aka fellow American citizens) having fun on a lake you believed was exclusive to you but turns out was actually a public lake owned by the state.

Also you say “hasn’t paid their fair share and don’t know how to interact around float planes!!!”. The state and muni pay for the lake. Not knowing how to interact around float planes?! Do you think Campbell lake is the only lake where float planes exist?

Greed is obviously a factor in your life.

Bob LakeStormer
5 months ago

Translation: “Stay the hell off our private lake….”

Anna
5 months ago

Haven’t taxpayers paid to maintain it, though? Also, it’s arrogant to assume that the public can’t act in the same safe way as people who live on the lake.

Sean P. Ryan
5 months ago

Just like Ron Alleva appearing to believe that because he bought his way into some level of respectability, everyone else involved in the homeless issue in Anchorage should go pound sand if they’re not on the same page as him. Based on my last interaction with him, this includes our elected officials.

Roy
5 months ago

Said the U.S. Cavalry to the Indians.

Robert Saget
5 months ago

Just because you CAN steal a public lake and harass Anchorage residents for over a generation when they attempt to use it doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Campbell Lake is not your personal family heirloom. Perhaps you should consider moving your float plane to another one of the thousand lakes you mentioned and leave this lake to the Alaskan public.

5 months ago

Slavery existed for generations in the USA, but it wasn’t right. By your logic, people in the 1860’s from Northern States didn’t know how to interact with Southerners (i.e. you believe your fellow Alaskans just aren’t smart enough to interact around float planes), so they should have just leave them alone to do their own thing, including stealing rights from others without question for generations. You just want to have to steal the public’s right to public access to a public waterway–something that doesn’t belong exclusively to you–and have it for yourself. Too bad. But thank you for donating your… Read more »

Cinch1777
5 months ago

Meanwhile, the Campbell Lake HOA sought and received millions of dollars of public funds to rebuild the dam, dredge the lake, and engineer public utilities around the lake.

PUBLIC FUNDS… We did help pay and maintain it…

4 months ago

You’re kidding, right? Float planes are part of Alaska, I’ve been on Campbell lake many times and never had any issues with float planes. Give me a break.

5 months ago

It may be that the northern PUE is located on the property to the East of the house. The parcel’s southern property line seems to be roughly 66 feet along the lake. DNR maps should clearly show the easement’s location.

Tom Meacham
5 months ago
Reply to  J.S.

A title report and an as-built survey would show how much the house impinges on the pre-existing section-line easement, which should be 66 feet wide and centered on the centerline of Jewel Lake Road. I would venture to guess that someone improperly built within this existing section-line easement, and the title company and the banks that financed this home did not catch it, or ignored it. A 66-foot-wide easement to the lake at this point would provide space for public access, plus room for parking a number of cars…..

Eager Beaver
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Meacham

Let’s be honest here. The northern access point is the best public access available, and is probably what should be developed. It’s on a major arterial, has more street parking available nearby, is close to the existing trail system, and has a 66′ wide access which is only blocked due to an illegal build. The rest of that section line easement is literally Jewel Lake Road. Don’t wish anything bad on them, however I hope that homeowner has title insurance, because ROW enforcement should resolve that obstruction.

Tom Meacham
5 months ago
Reply to  Eager Beaver

The section line easement that provides legal access to Campbell Lake on the north shore is the southerly right-of-way extension of Jewel Lake Road, at its intersection with North Point Drive. From Plat 69-30 (3/28/69), it appears that the section-line easement is 50 feet wide on each side of centerline (see notation on the plat showing the s/w corner of Lot 32, Wm. Lloyd Subdivision, on the northeast side of North Point Drive). The joint statement of the Municipality of Anchorage and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources dated December 9, 2019 refers to this as “a 66-foot-wide section-line easement”… Read more »

Go Take a Look
5 months ago

There is a fence blocking public access easement crossing the von Imhof and Frost properties on the south side of the lake.

Dustin R Canfield
5 months ago
Reply to  Go Take a Look

If there is a fence blocking public Access.. then there shouldn’t be any reason a gate couldn’t be installed. As for the homeowners… Times are changing and this is an awesome opportunity to enjoy a lake that supports the only NATURAL, silver & king salmon runs in the Anchorage bowl. NOT stocked. And to have a local lake to use a motorized boat is going to make it alot easier for us NOT SO RICH AND POWERFUL HOMEOWNERS. it is illegal to fish for the salmon species in this waterway except for dates and stipulations put forth by ADF&GAME. .… Read more »

Torgison
5 months ago

It’s illegal to fish in that lake regardless, as the join order from DNR and the Muni stated.

Jimmy
5 months ago
Reply to  Go Take a Look

Yeah, the Muni should be reminding the von Imhoffs that they agreed, as part of the easement vacation, to remove any signs, their fence, and any other man-made obstructions that deny access to the easement.
https://alaskalandmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/EV-2-861-Final-Finding.pdf

Robert Saget
5 months ago
Reply to  Jimmy

Obstructing access to the water via the easement is a criminal offense. The fence itself can be torn down and the owners (Von Imhof or Frost) are legally obligated to bear the cost.

As cited in statutory law (AS 35.08.128), which is referenced by both the State and Municipality in their joint statement:
“An unauthorized obstruction or interference is a public nuisance and is subject to abatement. The cost of abatement shall be borne by the violator and is in addition to any penalty imposed by the court.”

William Johnson
5 months ago

Let’s put a giant banner or sign on the lake saying we want our full PFD and we don’t care what you think Natasha VonImhof we are still your BOSS, The Public the little people

Troy Belanger
5 months ago

These are probably the same people that think we should give to the homless as it is not their money that they are using but our PFD as most that live on that lake are politicans or have ties with them

5 months ago

Good job Jeff. As to: “…..the easement on the north side of the lake appears to be blocked by a house.” Not a problem, just ring the bell and wipe your feet before “passing though”.

BigMike
5 months ago

You similar crap going on the Kenai Peninsula, on the Kenai River, Cook Inlet, and Kachemak Bay access. Wealthy people show up, decide only they should have access to everything, and push the public, and public access out.

In the last 20 years, we’ve seen probably ten public access points and a campground disappear, that were on the Kenai River near Soldotna. The current ones are continually threatened. The ones that remain get strangled by parking fees to keep lower income people away, or using it less.

Bob LakeStormer
5 months ago

Looks like the annual event planning will begin soon for float parties on the lake. We’d love to hear input from fellow floaters on any other float parties plan for this spring and summer.

Rachel M
5 months ago

To those who are wondering why Campbell Lake is so special, it’s because Campbell is one of the ~only~ lakes in Anchorage where you can use jet skis, motorboats, and (in the winter) snow machines. Residents have taken advantage of this for decades (if you look at the satellite photos you can see ~lots~ of nice motorboats). Now the public can too! This is a huge win for both motorized and non-motorized recreation in Anchorage.

Anna
5 months ago

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

GoFundMeCampbellLake
5 months ago

The public should be able to use these easements, but they are not marked, so it would be easy to inadvertently trespass. If the city won’t step up to the plate and clearly mark the easements in a permanent manner, then maybe we (the public…via a GoFundMe?) should hire a surveyor to place some monuments, file a plat showing their location, and publish GPS coordinates of the monuments along with photos.

jfk
5 months ago

Jeff and Paxson: I though investigative journalism was dead in Alaska, but you give me renewed hope that it is possible in the digital age. The point of journalism was always to check the power of the rich and politically connected and you have more than fulfilled that mission with this investigation. I will be giving you money to continue your efforts.

Yeah
5 months ago
Reply to  jfk

If Jeff was a real journalist, he’d remember to ethically disclose that he ran against Natasha for her senate seat a few years ago. The public should have access to this lake but Jeff needs to be more transparent.

Nonono
5 months ago
Reply to  Yeah

It’s common knowledge that Jeff and Natasha ran against each other. Beyond that, the facts are what they are: a) There is an easement across Natasha’s property, aka “the Von Imhof Acres.” b) Natasha petitioned to eliminate the easement and destroy public access to the lake. c) Natasha (mostly) failed. d) The public has a right to use that easement at any time and for any lawful reason. e) Campbell Lake is a public lake. None of those facts is affected by knowing that Jeff and Natasha ran against each other. It’s interesting, but totally irrelevant to this story.

Jeff Landfield
5 months ago
Reply to  Yeah

I never hid that I ran against Natasha in 2016, and that is widely known. Also, it was made very clear in the first story that Paxson discovered the easement after he sent DNR an email asking about access. This was the result of him being accosted by a person living on the lake. I admit it looks weird, but it is just a coincidence. She tried to vacate the easement in 2004, I ran against her in 2016. Alaska is a small state.

Where are ALL the facts?
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Landfield

Jeff, While you may have mentioned that you unsuccessfully ran against Natasha Von Imhof in a 2016 election, your campaign kick-off video prominently featuring images of the Von Imhof home and your history as a provocateur suggests ulterior motives for the article and discredits the reporting to an objective reader. While some of the research underpinning the original article is worthy of praise, it is disappointing that facts are intermingled with hearsay from non-experts and misinformation intended to pander to an audience that is already foaming at the mouth over the perceived injustice. What misinformation am I referring to? Two… Read more »

Robert Saget
4 months ago

What are ALL the facts? 1. You pay real estate taxes on the value of your home like literally every other person in Anchorage. If your home is assessed at a higher value because you live on a lake, that does not entitle you to declare yourself the owner of the lake. The lake was illegally dammed precisely to increase land values. Logically, your property taxes are higher. That is how taxes work. 2. Your second point was also already covered by the Landmine. There are multiple paragraphs in the October 9 article you mentioned describing both the need for… Read more »

E. Lizardo
5 months ago

I noticed this fall that a number of concrete blocks have been placed over the public access of Lower Fire Lake in Eagle River. It looks like someone might be playing the float plane card there too.

AK GB
5 months ago

I think the state needs to exercise its right to eminent domain and remove the house blocking the public easement!

Tom Meacham
5 months ago
Reply to  AK GB

Eminent domain might be a possible vehicle; however the homeowner would not be entitled to any “fair compensation” at all if the home was built in pre-existing section-line easement, in apparent total disregard of that easement, as appears the case here (according to reports). A court action for ejectment would be another way to bring practical public access in line with existing legal public access rights.

Deborah
5 months ago

Since the Campbell Creek dam is operating illegally after the previous inspection has expired it only makes sense to tear out the dam, drain Campbell Lake and have a perfect nature provided mud bog arena. For the most part the houses around the lake have sloping lawns and that would be a perfect place to put the bleachers for all the spectators we expect to have showing up. That’s my suggestion for the day.
Thank you and goodnight.
Joe Spenard

Woodstock
5 months ago

New Year’s Eve party !! On the Campbell Lake ice! ! Access: Ski or walk the inlet or outlet creek! Use the north or south easement access points ! Bonfires! Booze! Live music! HUNDREDS of revlers expected !!!!

JPR
4 months ago

At the end of Jewell Lake Rd, there is an unoccupied lot, that infrequently some neighbors crossed to access Campbell Lake in the winter. Now this lot (that must be just next to the suppressed easement) is totally fenced with big no trespassing signs (fenced by whom??). And supreme irony, the sign says: `access the lake by other legal means’, and surely does not indicate any legal mean. Unfriendly neighborhood. Sand Lake is very open, and I have not heard of ‘riffraff’ problem at Sand Lake, where I see old and young people, families, dogs, icefishermen, walkers, skiers, bikers, enjoying… Read more »

4 months ago

The muni is full of crap in regards to their assessment of the legality of the private lake. There exists legal plat filed in 1961 and accepted by local platting board and recorded, that sets forth the covenants of the subdivision that show the lake is indeed private.

Sean P. Ryan
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Rubey

What “local platting board” would have existed in 1961? I’ve done a broad range of research on 20th-century Alaska history, with land use issues as one facet. In territorial days, platting was often a matter of someone drawing lines on a piece of paper and filing it with the recorder. If any disputes arose, you would appear before a judge, who would decide on behalf of one side or another. In early statehood times, this would have continued until the legislature imposed boroughs on the state’s most populous areas, all of which were incorporated in late 1963 or early 1964.… Read more »

Sean P. Ryan
2 months ago
Reply to  Sean P. Ryan

As a follow-up, I found AS 29.03.30: “The Department of Natural Resources is the platting authority for the state except within a municipality that has the power of land use regulation and that is exercising platting authority.” I can’t speak to whether this was codified as such in the early 1960s. I can definitively state that Campbell Lake was not part of an incorporated municipality in 1961 and possess sufficient enough docmuentation to that effect.

3 months ago
Reply to  Robert Rubey

Local plats and subdivision covenants do not supercede the Constitution of the State of Alaska.