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Easement uneasiness ends in veto

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When conditions are right, residents of Caribou Island, in the middle of Skilak Lake, can get to their properties through an easement on the island’s south side.

It’s one of several ways to access the island’s 223 lots and it borders property belonging to Michael and Peggy Clements, of Sterling.

Michael Clements said confusion about the easement has made it so residents and visitors frequently trespass on their property, which has led to degradation of the bank there.

“I’ve allowed people to use my property, but you know, some people, you give them an inch, and they take a mile," he said. "Now I have people tying their boats on my moorings and moving through my property, right in front of my cabin.”

To fix the problem, the Clements proposed scrapping that easement and building a new, smaller one 70 feet away, on another one of their lots. But that decision was very unpopular among island residents, who said the change in easement would create a host of access issues.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly sided with those residents and rejected the Clements’ petition at its meeting last night.

“So when I look at this, I think this is a trespass problem," said Assembly President Brent Hibbert. "It’s a shame that you have neighbors and people that are trespassing on your property. And I don’t know how to stop that, but I also don't want to take right-of-way access away from anyone.”

It’s not the only right of way on the island and the easement the Clements proposed is only 70 feet to the east from the current right of way. Opponents, however, said that spot is more shallow, steeper, less sheltered and would be more dangerous for travel.

Russell Nogg has several properties on the island, including a waterfront lot. But he said at the meeting he’s still worried about losing this one.

“Historically, my wife and I have used — and not often — but we’ve used that 100-foot easement because we’re visiting people, we’re off on some hike, some event," he said. "And at any rate, it would be almost impossible to get more than three boats in a 30-foot easement if there’s a gathering or so on and so forth where people are coming by boat.”

The Planning Commission had approved the Clements’ petition at a meeting last month. The assembly usually follows the commission’s decisions.

But assembly members said they were swayed by the influx of emails and comments on the matter. 

Assembly member Tyson Cox asked Mike Clements how the easement change would fix the trespassing problem. He said he didn’t have an answer yet.

“That’s a good question," Mike Clements said. "I’m not sure how exactly we’re going to do it. Other than with signage or a fence. But you’re not allowed, that habitat protection zone, it’s prohibited any signage or fencing to have in those areas.”

The Clements also offered to build a new trail if the right of way moved.

“I just think everyone is really afraid of change," Peggy Clements said. "We would do a really nice job on the trail and we think we’ve given a really good piece of our lot seven.”

Some commenters said they worried the 30-foot alternative wouldn’t fit as many boats and wouldn’t be big enough for residents hauling in building materials for their cabins. 

Daniel Moose lives a few hundred feet away from the easement.

“So it’s been a safety feature for me to be able to go back and go to that 100-foot right of way, land my boat, land my supplies, station my materials and use it," he said.

He said he wouldn’t have purchased the property if there wasn’t that right of way.

The assembly voted unanimously to veto the Planning Commission’s decision. That means the easement will stay where it is.

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