Alaska Native Allotments: Conflicts with Utility Rights-of-way Have Not Been Resolved through Existing Remedies

GAO-04-923 Published: Sep 07, 2004. Publicly Released: Oct 07, 2004.
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In 1906, the Alaska Native Allotment Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to allot individual Alaska Natives (Native) a homestead of up to 160 acres. The validity of some of Copper Valley Electric Association's (Copper Valley) rights-of-way within Alaska Native allotments is the subject of ongoing dispute; in some cases the allottees assert that Copper Valley's electric lines trespass on their land. The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) are responsible for granting rights-of-way and handling disputes between allotees and holders of rights-of-way. GAO determined (1) the number of conflicts between Native allotments and Copper Valley rights-of-way and the factors that contributed to these conflicts, (2) the extent to which existing remedies have been used to resolve these conflicts, and (3) what legislative alternatives, if any, could be considered to resolve these conflicts.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To ensure that potential conflicts over the validity of rights-of-way within Alaska Native allotments are not escalated unnecessarily, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to develop, as part of BIA's training and technical assistance provided to its realty service providers in Alaska, a training module identifying the types of evidence that should be developed before pursuing an alleged trespass involving rights-of-way.
Closed – Implemented
In October 2005, Interior provided the following information: The BIA has taken the following action to implement the recommendation. The BIA, Alaska Region, hosted Advance Realty Training in late August 2004, for the Alaska Realty Service Providers. The training included a segment on trespass in relation to utility rights-of-way. The Office of the Solicitor, Alaska Region, and the BIA, Alaska Region, Rights Protection Specialist also made presentations on determining the validity of rights-of-way, identifying invalid rights-of-way, determining if rights-of-way are in trespass, and resolving disputes over the validity of rights-of-way. Future Advance Realty Training will include segments on trespass as it relates to utility rights-of-way.

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