Permit for private fence on public land draws concern in Talkeetna
On a beautiful summer day, hundreds of Talkeetna tourists flock to the bank of the Susitna River, hoping to get an iconic shot of Denali.
Many don’t realize they cross Chris Owens’ private property to get there.
"People walk through here and that’s fine with me. I’ve never turned anyone away,” Owens said.
His property includes a grassy lawn, a few small cabins he rents out, as well as a rocky crossing to get to the river. Owens said he’s not worried about sightseers but has had some major problems with people illegally camping in the area before.
That’s one of the reasons he put a fence last month around the main portion of his property but left a walkway open for visitors.
"For our guest in our cabins, for my family, my grandchildren and myself these are security issues. Drunks coming through the yard,” Owens said.
Part of his fence is on Mat-Su Borough land, though, and the backstory to that gets complicated.
The Borough issued an encroachment permit for the fence in 2003. That was transferred to Owens when he bought the property seven years ago.
Owens said he’s been working with some Borough staff to make the fence happen, but other borough employees didn't know about the permit until upset residents started chiming in.
"Within the right of way we have management responsibility of that and all of our right away permits we consider revokable or we can amend them or reissue them,” Borough development services manager Alex Strawn said.
The fence dominated the conversation at the Talkeetna Community Council meeting on Monday night.
“There are all kinds of ways to object to this,” said member Paul Button.
The encroachment permit includes a portion of A Street but does “not grant the Property Owner exclusive use of the area encroached upon."
Talkeetna resident Laura Wright said the fence clearly cuts off A Street from the general public and that’s a major problem as the river changes and erodes.
“That is riverfront property, that is very valuable for the public to use. At some point people are going to be picnicking on A Street because for all we know the trees north will be wiped out and that will be where the beautiful view of the Alaska range is,” Wright told the council.
Owens said he wants to ensure access for everyone while still keeping his private property safe.
“We’re happy to work with people, people who would like to come down and talk to me about it. It’s always good when we have strong opinions to get the facts first,” Owens said.
But some people in town would like the Borough lands to remain open and say the fence must come down.
The Talkeetna Community Council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Mat-Su Borough in opposition of the fence.
Strawn said Borough staff are reviewing the permit.
“We’re looking to see whether it’s appropriate to keep a fence within the right-of-way and determining whether that can continue to exist,” Strawn said.
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