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.
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:
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.
“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.
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:
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.
Campbell Lake series
This article is part of the Alaska Landmine's coverage of Campbell Lake access
Special FeatureThe bizarre story of Campbell Lake, the private lake that isn't
ArticleMillions of public dollars spent to dam and maintain “private” Campbell Lake
ArticleNew documents reveal coordinated effort to eliminate Campbell Lake public access
ArticleState of Alaska, Municipality of Anchorage issue joint statement: Campbell Lake is a public lake
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