My Turn: University lands bill a bad idea

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The recent discussion of House Bill 130 in the House Resources Committee demonstrates that transferring high-value public land utilized for recreation, subsistence, tourism, or other commercial uses is poor public policy. If you reside in Juneau, Haines, Hoonah, Elfin Cove or Gustavus, you may have hunted or recreated in lands slated to be given to the university. These include but are not limited to vast tracts of land around Tenakee, Pelican, Idaho Inlet and Mite Cove/Ewe Ledge. If you live elsewhere in Southeast, you better stay informed on HB 130 as most assuredly land you utilize is affected.

The university is anxious to receive these lands as they will then become private property and can be disposed of with much less oversight by the university. Joe Beadle, U of A, in testimony stated that the university would be able to react much quicker to "market forces." In other words, a wealthy speculator could make an offer and purchase land in large blocks without going through a public bid process. There are no requirements in HB 130 that land be subdivided into home site lots for Alaska residents. Donald Trump could buy his private Alaskan retreat and post the property with no-trespassing signs.

To make matters worse, this state legislation would pave the way for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to pass federal legislation offering up another 260,000 acres in matching federal lands to be passed on to the university. If we are having this much difficulty in agreeing upon state land to be transferred, can you imagine the fur ball we will have over another 44,000 acres out of the Tongass?

Pelican's economic choices are limited; we are tied closely to the seafood industry with commercial fishing being primary and tourism becoming more important annually. Portions of the land selected in the Lisianski area are being used by seafood buyers, commercial tourism, hunters and recreational fishermen. Giving away large blocks, of not just waterfront property, but also hundreds of acres of uplands will damage the existing businesses, displace subsistent and recreation users of the uplands and remove land from the public reservoir that could be used to establish a future borough.

I do not believe we should lock up our land to never be developed; however, giving it to the university to dispose of is not responsible. Land in our rural areas should be made available for purchase by Alaska residents for home sites, in discussion with the local communities, in lot size consistent with existing lots, and in small numbers over a lengthy period of time so that future generations may participate.

In a state with $30 billion in the Alaska Permanent Fund, I find it incredible we are even discussing HB 130. Personally, I would much rather see a portion of the permanent fund be allocated to an educational endowment. An endowment would cause everyone to pay a little bit as would future generations. The university offers an educational opportunity to every family, therefore everyone should contribute. In the meantime rural land disposal can proceed in a rational manner.

• Norm Carson has lived in Pelican since 1966. After a career with the state, he power-trolled commercially and then started a fishing charter business in 1994.

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