BLM pays state court ordered $593,007

Legal fees totaling $593,007 were recently paid by the Bureau of Land Management to the state of Alaska after a federal court ruled that the BLM acted in bad faith in a lawsuit involving the navigability of an Alaskan waterway.

“We hope this will convince the federal agencies to sit down with us and work through these disputes in advance, instead of forcing us to file needless litigation,” Deputy Attorney General Ed Sniffen said Oct. 12.

The state filed a lawsuit in June 2012 to resolve a longstanding dispute over ownership of lands beneath the Mosquito Fork, a tributary of the Fortymile River. The fundamental dispute, according to the Alaska Department of Law, was whether the Mosquito Fork was a navigable waterway, which, under the Submerged Lands Act and equal footing doctrine, meant that the bed of the river is owned by the state. The BLM’s refusal to acknowledge the state’s ownership created confusion and hardship for Alaskans seeking to use the river, particularly those with state mining claims.

The case proceeded over multiple years, with BLM continuing to contest the state’s ownership, making arguments that had already been rejected in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Then a day before a court hearing, the BLM abandoned all legal claims to the submerged lands, essentially nullifying the lawsuit, according to the Alaska Department of Law.

The state needlessly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for the trial, and subsequently filed a motion for full attorneys’ fees on grounds that BLM acted in bad faith during the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled last November that the federal government’s frivolous arguments increased the state’s costs of litigation and ordered the $593,007 repayment. BLM withdrew its appeal and recently paid the state the awarded amount.