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Alaska Sues Feds to Recognize State Title to Mendenhall Lake, River

November 01, 2022

(Anchorage, AK) – Today, the state of Alaska sued the federal government for title to submerged lands, in Juneau, under Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River. State ownership of Mendenhall Lake and River was granted at statehood, yet has not been recognized by the federal government, despite repeated attempts at clearing the title by the State.

The lawsuit continues the effort to secure title to Alaska lands begun in March 2021 by Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy through the “Unlocking Alaska” initiative.

“Navigable waterways above State-submerged lands are how many Alaskans travel and recreate,” said Governor Dunleavy. “Yet despite two unanimous Supreme Court rulings and defining law from 63 years ago when Alaska became a state, the federal government continues to act in a manner contrary to law by not recognizing State ownership of our navigable waterways.”

To date, the federal government has acknowledged the State’s title to only nine percent of Alaska’s submerged lands under 800,000 miles of navigable rivers, and 16 percent of Alaska’s submerged lands under 30 million acres of navigable lakes.

For Mendenhall, the State has provided 180 days of notice of intent prior to filing the lawsuit. The glacier, lake and river are busy tourist destinations in summer and winter.

“The Mendenhall Glacier has been a local, national, and international destination since the 1920s, and has afforded its visitors with boating opportunities on the Subject Waters utilizing various watercraft, including canoes, kayaks, inflatable rafts, and motorboats,” the complaint states. Mendenhall Lake is a glacial lake located about four miles north of downtown Juneau and was formed by the receding Mendenhall Glacier. The Mendenhall River originates in Mendenhall Lake and flows south six miles to its outlet to Gastineau Channel at Juneau International Airport.

In 2019, the Tongass National Forest proposed to install additional boat docks on the water without seeking approval from the State landowner.

“Building infrastructure on State navigable waterways without permission is like a neighbor building something on your land without asking,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “Once again, the federal government is forcing the State to litigate land ownership on land clearly given to Alaska at the time of statehood.”

Over the past year and a half, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been asking federal agencies to respond to requests for clear title.

“Alaska has owned the submerged lands underneath the clearly navigable Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River since the date of statehood pursuant to the United States Constitution and other federal law. Everyone knows that,” said Akis Gialopsos, Commissioner of DNR. “The federal government--including the U.S. Forest Service and BLM--may not like it, but that is the law. Instead of responsibly working with Alaska as the sovereign owner of lands adjacent to its own, the federal government has chosen to ignore State ownership, management and authority; has chosen to make decisions and take actions on State land without State involvement or consent; has chosen to gaslight the public into believing that Alaska is not the rightful owner. This has to stop, and this lawsuit, we hope, will convince the federal government—at long last—to work with, not against the State, for the public good.”

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Department Media Contact: Communications Director Patty Sullivan at or (907) 269-6368 or (907) 310-7490.