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The state is taking Polk Road. It's just a question of what price it will pay

Warren Polk, co-owner of the native allotment that the State of Alaska has filed action to take part of by eminent domain. Oct. 3, 2019.
Katie Basile
Warren Polk, co-owner of the native allotment that the State of Alaska filed action to take part of by eminent domain. Oct. 3, 2019.

The state is taking over Polk Road, a private road that has had a long, contentious history in Bethel. But there’s still the matter of what price the state will pay to get it.

A federal judge has ruled that the Alaska Department of Transportation can take possession of the right of way for Polk Road after July 31, 2022.

In March 2021, the state filed an action of eminent domain in federal court against the Polk brothers. Warren Polk, Earl Polk III, Vincent Polk, and Jason Blaine Polk jointly own the native allotment through which Polk Road passes. Eminent domain allows the government to take private land to use in the public interest.

Polk Road is currently a private, dirt road from Tundra Ridge to BIA Road. The state plans to convert it into a public, paved road. That would provide emergency responders another route to the northern subdivisions of Bethel, and would give many residents in those areas a shorter drive to the airport.

The state and the Polks have been in dispute over this piece of land for over a decade. The Polk family’s attorney, Steve Tervooren, said that his clients are no longer fighting whether the state has the right to take their land.

“It's just going to be a contest over the amount of the compensation,” Tervooren said.

The state said that $107,400 for two to three acres of the Polks’ land is fair market value. The Polks say that the land is worth more. This fall, a federal judge ordered the state to pay the Polk family $103,400 up front.

“That's just an initial sum,” Tervooren said, adding that a judge will hear testimony from experts and the Polks on what the land is worth before determining a final amount. “And it's quite common that the final compensation is well in excess of that original deposit."

Tervooren declined to say the amount that the Polks are seeking for their land. Shannon McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation, wrote in an email that the department is working in good faith with the Polks to negotiate fair compensation before a judge has to decide what that amount is. She said that the state plans to start construction of the road in the summer of 2023.

Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.