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Settlement talk in Viking Cove lawsuit


Settlement discussions appear to be under way in a lawsuit involving use of a Viking Cove beachfront.

Fred Einspruch of Haines sued property owners Sally Anderson and Michael Wald in state Superior Court July 11, asking the court to recognize a public right of use on a section of beachfront land owned by the couple.

The parcel is on a dirt road past the end of Mud Bay Road.

Einspruch maintains that longtime use of the property by recreationists has established a public right to continued use, through adverse possession sections of state law.

Anderson and Wald, who moved onto the property two years ago, say they have no qualms allowing others to use a strip of their three-acre property to access the beach, they just don’t want people parking or leaving boats on their land.

“We welcome people out there,” Anderson said in an interview. “We knew there was a public aspect to the property when we bought it. We’ve always said, ‘No problem’ when people ask if they can go down there to take seaweed. We’ve had almost all positive conversations with people.”

Beach users can park in a state-owned cul-de-sac a few hundred feet from the cove, she said.

Einspruch said he feared the couple’s restrictions on use of the land would lead to others. “I’m playing defense. I’m simply defending the public’s existing right to use the beach as it’s historically been used,” he said.

Einspruch’s lawsuit claims a portion of the couple’s property historically has been used for activities including picnicking, fishing, storing boats, gathering seaweed and harvesting firewood.

Einspruch’s attorney Joe Geldhof this week said that he and Fairbanks attorney Charlie Cole, who represents Anderson and Wald, had “a good conversation” about resolving the matter “in a way that works for the clients and the public.”

“Nobody’s looking for a four-lane highway out there. My client is looking to preserve the amount of access the public has enjoyed there for decades. Nothing more, nothing less,” Geldhof said.

A possible hitch is another piece of property owned by a third party, Geldhof said.

Attorney Cole could not be reached for comment on this story at press time Wednesday.

Parking at the site has eroded banks and vegetation there, Anderson said.

Einspruch said the matter reflects a lack of planning on the part of the borough to ensure public access to local beaches.

Mayor Stephanie Scott has asked the borough planning commission to place public access to beaches on an upcoming meeting agenda. “We have a responsibility to make sure there’s access to beaches,” she said this week.

But Scott said she contacted an attorney about participating in the suit, as a citizen, on behalf of Wald and Anderson. “I don’t support the adverse possession claim that’s being made,” Scott said.