Railroad to start charging for property use in right-of-way

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 19:00
That includes lawns, gardens, fences, sheds

After its last public meeting on the issue Nov. 12, the Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARC) adopted a policy that will require landowners to purchase a permit if they’re using land within the ARC’s right-of-way.

The permit application fee is $250, and permit holders will be charged a minimum of $250 per year after. The annual fee could be higher for some residents, however, because the amount charged is calculated in part on the size of the area in the right-of-way being used and on tax property assessment values.

The permit requirements cover residential uses, which include structures, such as fences and storage sheds, but also gardens and lawns.

“Yeah, good luck trying to get money out of me for grass,” said Birchwood resident Eric Holta, who only has lawn in the right-of-way. “It won’t be grass much longer. I’ll let the grass grow out and it’ll turn to weeds.”

Another local, Teresa Fitzsimmons, said the right-of-way covers most of her backyard, where she has a lawn, a fence, a shed and a fort with a zipline.

In an interview Oct. 30, Fitzsimmons said she hadn’t received notice of the Nov. 12 public hearing, or heard a new policy had been drafted. Like some of her neighbors, there’s no mail delivery to her address, she has a post office box only.

Fitzsimmons said she and her husband contacted the railroad before they bought the house a little more than 10 years ago to ask if there was anything they should know in terms of conflicts with having her back yard in the right-of-way. At the time, they told her there was nothing she had to worry about.

She ultimately opted not to go to the public hearing, though, saying she was “rather disenchanted” with the public process she and her neighbors fought and lost on getting switched to city water.

Roughly 750 Anchorage-area properties are in the right-of-way, railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said, and the owners of all of them were sent notification by mail. Public hearings were held throughout 2012 in Wasilla, Fairbanks and Anchorage, he said. Only about 100 people have usage in the right-of-way that will require them to get a permit.

They have 180 days from the Alaska Railroad Corporation board’s Nov. 13 adoption of the new rules to apply. Those who don’t comply will be required to dismantle any structures or landscaping in violation of the policy at their own cost.

The railroad’s priority, Sullivan said, is “to keep the right-of-way safe. We prefer there wasn’t anything in the right-of-way. But in discussion by our board, they determined it was better to try and work with our neighbors rather than just kick them out.”

Sullivan said 10 Anchorage-area residents showed up to the Nov. 12 hearing, with five against the policy and five in favor, which he said was “a pleasant surprise.”

“People think that we have done a good job on developing this policy and working with our neighbors,” Sullivan said.

The new permits will also be required for property owners with commercial usage in the right-of-way. Eklutna Inc. — the largest private landowner in Anchorage — has acreage near the railroad. In terms of impact, however, office manager Joanna White said, “We don’t have a public comment at this time because we’re still reviewing this and what this means.”


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