U.S. Supreme Court Decision Clarifies Submerged Land Title Issues in Southeast Alaska
June 6, 2005
(Anchorage) – The United States Supreme Court issued a decision today that clarifies state and federal title rights to submerged lands in Glacier Bay and other areas within Southeast Alaska.
The state filed the lawsuit in November 1999 to quiet title to the lands underlying marine waters in Southeast Alaska. At issue were claims to title to the lands underlying all marine waters of the Alexander Archipelago, including those within the boundaries of the Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay National Park and certain "doughnut hole" areas that are more than three miles from any land.
In its 6-3 decision, the Court accepted recommendations previously made by a special master. As a result, the State has title to the submerged lands within three miles of shore within the Tongass National Forest. Title to submerged lands outside the threemile area and within Glacier Bay National Park belong to the federal government.
"It is always disappointing when you don't prevail on all the issues in a lawsuit," said Attorney General David Márquez. "The silver lining in today's decision is certainly the Court's affirmation regarding the Tongass National Forest. The marine waters in Southeast Alaska are the historical, cultural, and commercial lifeblood of the area. They provide the foundation for nearly every activity in the region, including fishing, transportation, recreation, and tourism. This case confirms that the underlying lands are overwhelmingly state-owned."
"Generally, title to submerged lands passes to the state at statehood, unless Congress declares otherwise. This point was disputed for Glacier Bay and we lost," said Márquez. "I would note that three Justices disagreed with the majority's decision. This reaffirms to me that the issue was valid and well advocated by our attorneys."
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