Opinion of the Court

leases for offshore exploration and to share in oil and gas revenues from the contested lands.

Several general principles govern our analysis of the parties' claims. Ownership of submerged lands—which carries with it the power to control navigation, fishing, and other public uses of water—is an essential attribute of sovereignty. Utah Div. of State Lands v. United States, 482 U. S. 193, 195 (1987). Under the doctrine of Lessee of Pollard v. Hagan, 3 How. 212, 228–229 (1845), new States are admitted to the Union on an “equal footing” with the original 13 Colonies and succeed to the United States' title to the beds of navigable waters within their boundaries. Although the United States has the power to divest a future State of its equal footing title to submerged lands, we do not "lightly infer" such action. Utah Div. of State Lands, supra, at 197.

In United States v. California, 332 U. S. 19 (1947) (California I), we distinguished between submerged lands located shoreward of the low-water line along the State's coast and submerged lands located seaward of that line. Only lands shoreward of the low-water line—that is, the periodically submerged tidelands and inland navigable waters—pass to a State under the equal footing doctrine. The original 13 Colonies had no right to lands seaward of the coastline, and newly created States therefore cannot claim them on an equal footing rationale. Id., at 30–33. Accordingly, the United States has paramount sovereign rights in submerged lands seaward of the low-water line. Id., at 33–36. In 1953, following the California I decision, Congress enacted the Submerged Lands Act, 67 Stat. 29, 43 U. S. C. $ 1301 et seq. That Act "confirmed” and “established" States' title to and interest in "lands beneath navigable waters within the boundaries of the respective States.” § 1311(a). The Act defines “lands beneath navigable waters” to include both lands that would ordinarily pass to a State under the equal footing doctrine and lands over which the United States has paramount sovereign rights, beneath a 3-mile belt of the ter

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Opinion of the Court

ritorial sea. $ 1301(a). The Act essentially confirms States' equal footing rights to tidelands and submerged lands beneath inland navigable waters; it also establishes States' title to submerged lands beneath a 3-mile belt of the territorial sea, which would otherwise be held by the United States. California ex rel. State Lands Comm'n v. United States, 457 U. S. 273, 283 (1982). The Alaska Statehood Act expressly provides that the Submerged Lands Act applies to Alaska. Pub. L. 85–508, $6(m), 72 Stat. 343 (1958). As a general matter, then, Alaska is entitled under both the equal footing doctrine and the Submerged Lands Act to submerged lands beneath tidal and inland navigable waters, and under the Submerged Lands Act alone to submerged lands extending three miles seaward of its coastline.

In hearings before the Special Master, the parties identified 15 specific issues for resolution, which we treat in three groups. First, the parties disputed the legal principles governing Alaska's ownership of submerged lands near certain barrier islands along the Arctic Coast. Second, the parties contested the proper legal characterization of particular coastal features, including a gravel and ice formation in the Flaxman Island chain known as Dinkum Sands. Third, the parties disputed whether, when Alaska became a State, the United States retained ownership of certain submerged lands located within two federal reservations, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the northwest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeast. For each reservation, the Master considered both whether the seaward boundary encompassed certain disputed waters and whether particular executive and congressional actions prevented the lands beneath tidally influenced waters from passing to Alaska at statehood.

Alaska excepts to three of the Master's recommendations. First, it claims that the Master erred in concluding that waters between the Alaskan mainland and certain barrier islands were not "inland waters,” the limits of which would Opinion of the Court

form a portion of the State's coastline for purposes of measuring the State's 3-mile Submerged Lands Act grant. Alaska argues that, at the time of its statehood, the United States had a clear policy of enclosing waters behind nearfringing islands as “inland waters.” In abandoning that policy in 1971, Alaska argues, the Federal Government impermissibly "contracted" Alaska's recognized territory. Second, the State challenges the Master's conclusion that Dinkum Sands is not an “island.” Under the Master's approach, the low-water line on Dinkum Sands is not part of Alaska's coastline, and the State cannot claim ownership of submerged lands, covering an area of 28 square miles, surrounding the feature. Alaska argues that the Master erred in construing the relevant definition of an "island” and in applying that definition to Dinkum Sands. Third, the State claims that the Master erred in determining that the United States retained ownership of certain submerged lands within the boundaries of the National Petroleum Reserve at Alaska's statehood. Alaska argues both that the Executive lacked authority to prevent submerged lands from passing to Alaska, and that any attempt to include submerged lands within the Reserve was not sufficiently clear to defeat Alaska’s title under the equal footing doctrine or under the Submerged Lands Act.

The United States excepts to the Master's recommendation concerning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Master concluded, among other things, that an administrative application for the Refuge was insufficient to “set apart" submerged lands within the proposed boundaries. As a result, the Master concluded, submerged lands within the Refuge passed to Alaska at statehood.

We consider these exceptions in turn.


By applying the Submerged Lands Act to Alaska through the Alaska Statehood Act, see Pub. L. 85–508, $ 6(m), 72 Stat.

Opinion of the Court

343 (1958), Congress granted the State title to submerged lands beneath a 3-mile belt of the territorial sea, measured from the State's "coast line.” 43 U. S. C. $$ 1301(a)(2), 1311(a). The Act defines the term "coast line" as "the line of ordinary low water along that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters.” $ 1301(c). Alaska's first exception requires us to consider how the presence of barrier islands along its northern shore affects the delimitation of its coastline. The issue is of primary relevance in the Beaufort Sea, between the National Petroleum ReserveAlaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A joint federal-state sale of mineral leases covering this so-called Leased Area, conducted in December 1979, yielded large sums now held in escrow awaiting the outcome of this suit.

In cases in which the Submerged Lands Act does not expressly address questions that might arise in locating a coastline, we have relied on the definitions and principles of the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, Apr. 29, 1958, [1964] 15 U. S. T. 1606 (Convention). See United States v. California, 381 U. S. 139, 165 (1965) (California II). Specifically, the coastline from which a State measures its Submerged Lands Act grant corresponds to the "baseline" from which the United States measures its territorial sea under the Convention. The Government argued before the Special Master that the United States measures its territorial sea from a "normal baseline”—the lowwater line along the coast, Art. 3, supplemented by closing lines drawn across bays and mouths of rivers, see Arts. 7, 13. Under Article 10(2) of the Convention, each island has its own belt of territorial sea, measured outward from a baseline corresponding to the low-water line along the island's coast.

Although the United States now claims a territorial sea belt of 12 nautical miles, see Presidential Proclamation No. 5928, 3 CFR 547 (1988 Comp.), note following 43 U. S. C.

Opinion of the Court

§ 1331, we are concerned in this case only with the 3-mile belt of the territorial sea that determines a State's Submerged Lands Act grant. Under Article 6 of the Convention, the outer limit of that territorial sea belt is a line every point of which is three miles from the nearest point of the baseline. This means of measuring the outer limit of the belt is also known as the "arcs-of-circles" method.

Alaska objected to application of the Article 3 “normal baseline” approach to its Arctic Coast. In the Leased Area of the Beaufort Sea, some offshore islands are more than six miles apart or more than six miles from the mainland. If Alaska owns only those offshore submerged lands beneath each 3-mile belt of territorial sea, the United States will own "enclaves” of submerged lands, wholly or partly surrounded by state-owned submerged lands, beneath waters more than three miles from the mainland but not within three miles of an island. Two such federal enclaves exist in the Leased Area between the mainland and the Flaxman Island chain, beneath the waters of Stefansson Sound. To eliminate these enclaves, Alaska offered alternative theories for determining the seaward limit of its submerged lands in the vicinity of barrier islands. Alaska principally contended that the United States should be required to draw “straight baselines” connecting the barrier islands and to measure the territorial sea from those baselines. Article 4 of the Convention permits a nation to use straight baselines to measure its territorial sea “[i]n localities where the coast line is deeply indented and cut into, or if there is a fringe of islands along the coast in its immediate vicinity.” The parties agree that Alaska's coastline satisfies this description. Under this approach, waters landward of the baseline would be treated as “inland” waters, and Alaska would own all submerged lands beneath those waters.

The Master rejected this approach, finding that the use of straight baselines under Article 4 is permissive, not mandatory, and that the decision whether to use straight baselines


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