Alaska has filed suit against the United States to defend its right to control submerged lands under the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, the Bettles River and the Dietrich River, all part of interior Alaska.

In an Oct. 6 statement on the suit notes that it is part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan for Alaska to assert control over its own navigable waterways.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for Alaska, the lawsuit is based on the Equal Footing Doctrine of the U.S. Constitution, which defends the right of new states admitted into the Union who are to have the same legal protections as other states when it comes to ownership of the beds of navigable waters. The doctrine dates back to the original 13 Colonies.

The federal government’s default position appears to be that all rivers in Alaska are non-navigable, despite the State producing ample evidence demonstrating their boatabilty.

“Prior to gaining independence, the beds of navigable waters within the original colonies were owned by the Crown, for use by the people,” a statement from the Alaska Department of Law notes. “This ensured that waters capable of being used for commercial travel remained open for use.  Once the United States gained its independence, the title to the beds of navigable waters transferred to the original 13 states.”

As the nation expanded, the federal government served as a trustee – holding title to submerged lands under navigable waters until a new state emerged. Then the title transferred to the state. This doctrine was later codified in the federal Submerged Lands Act, and expressly recognized in the Alaska Statehood Act.

When Alaska entered the Union in 1959 not all Alaska waters were evaluated to determine their navigability or whether Alaska should take control of them.

“When the state and the federal government don’t agree on the issue of navigability, the state is forced to seek a determination by the courts,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “Unfortunately, the federal government’s default position appears to be that all rivers in Alaska are non-navigable, despite the State producing ample evidence demonstrating their boatabilty. Fortunately we keep being successful in these cases, and the federal government needs to acknowledge this and change its position.”

Corri Feige, Alaska’s Commissioner of the Dept. of Natural Resources, said state control over navigable rivers is particularly important in Alaska where roads are far more limited than in the Lower-48.

“The failure of the federal government to recognize state ownership of the submerged lands underlying these important transportation routes is antithetical to the state’s management of its transportation system,” she said.

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Alaska sues feds to gain control of navigable waterways

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.


  • G Aleution says:

    It is understood that navigable waters are the state controlled land. The waters of the United states are defined. We have contract understanding with the United States for what was expressed at statehood. We have equal footing for defined expectations that other frontier states reasonably enjoyed for sustaining commerce. That fifty (50) years later we have to sue to exercise statehood prerogatives is very wrong.

  • Opus says:

    Right idea. Wrong way of doing it. The federal government has Constitutional authority to own land for D.C. and for military bases – NOTHING ELSE! Suing the feds is a waste of time. Alaska is supposed to be a sovereign state but the feds have illegally locked up about 70% of the land.
    Time to kick the feds out.

  • G+Aleution says:

    I think the alpha bets are unauthorized to have any business mercantile power outside a ten(10) mile radius outside the District of Columbia, Maryland without securing state business licenses. I believe many of the “federal” agencies are corporations registered off-shore meaning intermingling of secretive foreign influence and/or investment. If true, not good for our state or national mercantile interests. But, mostly the media is directed off-shore too and it makes us a laughingstock (and our oppressors I believe have been giggling and interfering with our great republic for a long time). Research is hard to do but our representatives know a great many such interesting things. They just do happy talk tho.

  • G Aleution says:

    Ps. I dint change my nom-de-plume neither. Also, the Pamphleteers of the 1770’s used pen names as well.

  • G Aleution says:

    Equal Representation under the law is a thing!!!!

  • Larry Wood says:

    Dunleavy, you keep this up, I’m going to have to get over my angst about your shortcomings and the COVID insanity and support you.

  • Jon and Ruth Ewig says:

    Governor Dunleavy has much power over Alaska. Larry Arnn explains the powers of the individual states over their own issues is greater than the federal government. We have been watching the online “Introduction to the Consitution.” I clearly establishes each governor’s sovereignty over that each State. Thus Governor Dunleavy needs to push back which is what is happening. We are a red state and need to stand up for the Rule of Law, or, just have lawlessness. We stand with the other states whose governors understand their power and will protect their citizens, such as Florida, Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and many many other governors who will uphold our laws set up by our Original Constitution and not some judges “remake” calling it a “living” document..