Homeowners dispute land ownership with Alaska Railroad
It isn't over yet. That's what some homeowners say of their fight with the Alaska Railroad -- even after the railroad rescinded a controversial policy Tuesday.
The issue stems from a question about who owns land directly surrounding a railroad track. The Alaska Railroad says it's part of a safety zone that federal law requires it keep clear, but some homeowners say they still have the right to it.
For decades, trains have been part of the scenery at John Pletcher's home in Oceanview. The tracks were part of the charm when he first moved in, in the '80s. But in 2012, they became a nightmare.
Pletcher got a postcard in the mail that said he'd have to start paying to keep anything on the property, within 100 feet of the tracks.
"My wife and I had a few sleepless nights over it," Pletcher said, adding that according to the new policy, he'd have to pay to keep part of his back lawn, his shed and trees.
"They wanted roughly $250 for an application fee, and I think the original charge they were going to make was 25 cents a square foot. And that's about 5,000 feet so that's about $1,200 a year," Pletcher said.
Pletcher refused to pay and later reached out to his state lawmaker, Rep. Chuck Kopp.
"We need to point out what is right, what is constitutionally right and what is morally right," Kopp said of the issue.
After pushback from Kopp and other legislators, the Alaska Railroad decided to get rid of the policy Tuesday.
"It had really become sort of a political lightning rod," said Tim Sullivan, a spokesperson for the Alaska Railroad.
For its part, the railroad maintains it down to the 100-foot buffer zone around the tracks -- and that the fees, as part of a permitting process, were necessary to ensure safety.
"It just became that we wanted people to recognize that they were on railroad land, and had a liability for being there and responsibility to be safe and that we had a responsibility for the land itself in order to be able to tell people what was safe and what wasn't," Sullivan said.
Pletcher's nightmare may be over, but he says he still can't sleep until the issue of ownership is over.
"I feel very tired, but I'm not going to quit," Pletcher said, adding that he'll work with Kopp and Alaska's congressional delegation to get the issue settled at a federal level.
Now that the railroad has rescinded the permitting policy, Sullivan says it will reimburse homeowners for the permits between now and the end of the year.
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