Feds plan to hasten transfer of Alaska land using GPS

ANCHORAGE — The federal government has announced plans to speed up the transfer of about 35 million acres of land to Alaska.

 

The federal government has only transferred about 65 percent of the 100 million acres of land Alaska was promised at statehood. The delay has been blamed on the time it takes to survey land, which involves surveyors flying into remote areas, clearing through brush and placing brass markers.

The federal Bureau of Land Management said Monday it will begin using GPS coordinates as a new survey method, The Alaska Public Radio Network reported.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said the change is meant to expedite the survey process and save about $60 million.

“We’ve found that by applying GPS technology, the same type of technology that drives your smart phone, we can cut the time in half,” Kornze said. “We can cut costs in half and Alaskans can have the land that’s due to them.”

But the new survey method has been met with pushback by some Alaska officials who say it could result in more costs for the state.

“The problem is, the methodology that has been proposed by the BLM is untested, and we’re not so sure that this isn’t simply passing on the costs . to the state,” said Andy Mack, Alaska’s commissioner of natural resources.

Steve Buchanan, a surveyor and past president of Alaska Society of Professional Land Surveyors, said the brass markers are the best way to show landowners’ property lines. If the government doesn’t continue to use the markers, then a landowner would have to pay to put them in, he said.

“And it’s going to be very expensive,” Buchanan said. “It’s what I call a ‘survey debt’ that’s being passed on from the BLM to the state, and it could be passed from the state to whoever buys that land.”

Kornze maintains that the new GPS method will be a valid way to establish state property lines. He said eventually the BLM will expand the technology for use in other states.

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