Lawmakers: UA lands bill needs work

Southeast residents fear bill could harm future growth and watersheds

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2005

The University of Alaska agreed to a few adjustments to the Murkowski administration's controversial land grant bill, but legislators said Wednesday it still needs work.

Murkowski wants the Legislature to quickly approve the transfer of 260,000 acres of state land to the university, providing it a new source of income.

Many Southeast Alaska communities, from Port Alexander to Tenakee Springs, say they were not adequately consulted about the bill. Residents fear that the bill could harm their watersheds, recreation and future growth.

"I spend more time contemplating my lawn than the state spent on (its land selections)," Sitka Mayor Marko Dapcevich said.

A Lisianski Point parcel, for example, would completely surround a Tlingit summer camp that teaches families about subsistence and addiction problems, Dapcevich said.

The Southeast Alaska lands add up to 40,114 acres, only 15 percent of the total parcels designated throughout the state. But the Alaska Department of Natural Resources says Southeast Alaska lands will provide the most income to the university through future investment, sales or leases of property.

The House Resources Committee held a work session on the bill Wednesday, following a two-week hiatus from heated public testimony.

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, hammered at state and university officials during the session about why they hadn't agreed on more land grants in Southcentral Alaska, such as the Willow capital-move site, instead of controversial lands in Southeast Alaska.

Bob Loeffler, director of the Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water, said the Southeast parcels are more valuable than Southcentral lands.

"I just don't see where he is coming from," Crawford said after the meeting. "It just doesn't ring true to me. There's a lot of demand for land (in Southcentral)."

Crawford and committee members representing Southeast Alaska districts said the university and the state should "weed out" their more controversial land selections.

"We don't have to do what the governor lays down without any changes," Crawford said.

But University of Alaska Vice President for Finance Joe Beedle said the university must move with "extreme caution" on reducing its land selections.

Beedle said he already expects a "10,000-acre shrinkage" during the university's title search process.

The university will put deed restrictions on the parcels near the two largest communities affected by the bill - the Kodiak Launch Site and the Neets Bay Hatchery near Ketchikan, he said.

The state also agreed to allow Tenakee Springs to renew its efforts to acquire a 17-acre parcel at its harbor that is now designated for the university.

The state had put Tenakee Springs' effort to acquire the parcel on hold while it negotiated with the university, Loeffler said.

The university's deed restrictions would provide Kodiak and the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRAA) the right of first refusal to purchase the contested parcels.

But Kodiak and Ketchikan committee members said they aren't satisfied yet. Some questioned the ability of SSRAA and Kodiak to pay for the parcels.

Committee Co-Chairman Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said the university should propose more restrictive deed restrictions.

Rep. Jim Elkins, R-Ketchikan, said the committee should not pass the bill on to the Finance Committee, its last stop before the House floor, until "it's a good bill."

Ramras said he plans to host public testimony on the bill on Friday and a committee vote on Monday.

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