- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Alaska’s attorney general is seeking to calm legislators’ concerns about her decision to seek a settlement in a long-running dispute over land access.

Jahna Lindemuth has been meeting with lawmakers and is scheduled to face a final confirmation hearing Wednesday, a day before legislators are expected to vote on her nomination.

Her decision to pursue a settlement in a dispute over access along a road leading from Copper Center to Klutina Lake has garnered considerable attention. Copper Center is about 100 miles northeast of Valdez.

The case was brought in 2008 by Ahtna Inc., an Alaska Native regional corporation. Ahtna has said the road traverses undeveloped Ahtna land.

Senate President Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, told reporters last week that Lindemuth’s decision to pursue a settlement is problematic.

“She’s not establishing a good track record for herself in some people’s eyes,” he said. “That doesn’t mean she won’t get confirmed. It means she’s got trouble.”

Sen. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, said that as part of his own due diligence, he submitted a records request for “everything I could get that transpired between Ahtna and the state.”

Coghill, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s been convinced to support Lindemuth’s nomination.

In 2016, a superior court judge handed Ahtna a partial victory, saying the state’s right-of-way claims were too far-reaching.

During a confirmation hearing before Coghill’s committee last month, Lindemuth said in a situation like that, one must decide whether to settle and try to secure access that benefits Alaskans or take chances at trial.

Walker and the heads of other state agencies involved in the case were consulted on the parameters for negotiation talks, she said.

In an interview Tuesday, Lindemuth said a settlement is not precedent setting.

Negotiations continue, and the public will have a chance to comment once both sides reach an agreement but before anything is signed, she said.

The state will consider the comments in deciding its next steps, she said.

Lindemuth said she has been talking through the case with legislators and said she is not nervous ahead of Thursday’s confirmation vote.

Lindemuth replaced Craig Richards as attorney general. Richards, a former law partner of Walker’s who had a rocky confirmation in 2015, resigned as attorney general last summer.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, called Lindemuth a qualified and “very moderate” candidate. The settlement she’s attempting seems to be a good one, he said.

Both he and Coghill expected that Lindemuth would be confirmed.

Coghill said the access issue is important and that people have a right to be concerned about any agreement because the state and Ahtna have had a tense relationship.

Walker has shown a “strong willingness to work with Native communities in a lot of areas. And we don’t know if that’s going to be cooperation or capitulation,” Coghill said. “And I’ve been convinced it’s not capitulation at this point.”

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