Daily Sitka Sentinel
Sheldon Jackson College filed a “color of title” application with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Friday, claiming ownership of 160 acres of land around the falls at the head of Redoubt Bay.
The application was filed in Anchorage by SJC attorney Cabot Christianson and signed by John Holst, executive manager of the college.
The application to the BLM was accompanied by documentation tracing SJC’s claim of title to the Redoubt land through a succession of owners beginning with Prince Maksoutoff, the last of the governors of Russian America. The application also included a copy of a perpetual easement to a 40-foot-wide strip of land on the left side of the Redoubt falls that SJC granted to the U.S. Forest Service in 1984.
Redoubt, about 10 miles south of Sitka, is the site of a sockeye salmon run important to Sitkans for subsistence and personal use. The SJC claim comes at the same time that the BLM is processing the claim of Sealaska Corp., which has selected the site for corporate ownership under its land claims rights, asserting the historic cultural significance of Redoubt to area Natives. Sealaska, which claims that the land is federally owned and open for selection, has stated that the corporation plans to allow access to the site to Natives and non-Natives alike.
Christianson and Holst told the Sentinel that once the SJC title to the land is acknowledged by the BLM, the college trustees plan to transfer title to an owner, such as a land trust, under terms that will guarantee public access for its presently allowed uses in perpetuity.
Sheldon Jackson College shut down academic operations in June 2007, but has continued in operation under its board of trustees as it settles outstanding debts and disposes of SJC property. In 2011 the trustees donated the land and buildings of the historic central campus to Alaska Arts Southeast, which operates the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.
Other parcels of real estate have been subdivided from the core campus and sold to pay off SJC’s creditors.
The papers filed with BLM on Friday include quit claim deeds signed by the children of John G. Brady in 1981, transferring their interests in the Redoubt land to Sheldon Jackson College. They had acquired their rights to the property from their father, the Presbyterian missionary and pioneer Sitka merchant who served as governor of the District of Alaska from 1897 to 1906.
The chain of title filed with the BLM Friday shows that Brady acquired the 160 acres at Redoubt from the Baranoff Packing Co. in 1900. That company’s ownership was traced through a series of transfers originating with the Oct. 2, 1867, grant by Prince Maksoutoff, governor of the Russian colonies in Alaska, to “J. Mora Moss, Charles Baum and their Associates.” The date of that transaction was 16 days prior to the date of the ceremony atop Castle Hill, when Russia transferred Alaska to the United States.
Baum, as president of the American Russian Commercial Company, deeded the Redoubt property to William C. Lynde and Howard M. Hough in 1883. Lynde and Hough signed over the property to the Baranoff Packing Co. in 1889.
As evidence of SJC’s claim to the Redoubt area, Christianson gave the BLM copies of a 1981 easement that SJC granted to the U.S. Forest Service in 1984. The agreement, in which Sheldon Jackson College granted a 40-foot-wide perpetual easement for a boat tramway on the left side of the Redoubt falls, states that if for five years the Forest Service ceases to use the tram, or determines that it doesn’t want the easement, then “in the event of such nonuse or of such a determination by the Regional Forester, the Regional Forester shall furnish to grantor a statement in recordable form evidencing such a termination.”
“The college has never received any such termination statement,” Christianson said.
Holst said the application seeking BLM’s recognition of SJC’s ownership of the land was delayed by the difficulty of locating some of the relevant documents in the old state and federal land files.
Christianson’s timeline shows that Sealaska filed in 1975 for selection of Redoubt under its ANSCA land claims rights.