Committee rejects land bill amendment

Lawmakers call effort to protect Sumdum parcel 'too restrictive'

Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Juneau residents who want to protect a small patch of land in Tracy Arm did not convince lawmakers Tuesday the parcel is worth amending a controversial lands bill that is making its way through the Legislature.

The 4.9-acre Sumdum parcel in the middle of 730,000 acres of federally designated wilderness is slated to be traded to the University of Alaska by the state Department of Natural Resources in House Bill 295.

The proposed legislation transfers nearly 200,000 acres statewide to help fund the college system.

On Tuesday, Gov. Sean Parnell's bill moved out of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, which is co-chaired by Juneau Republican Cathy Muñoz.

The committee passed several amendments that remove a handful of parcels contested by Southeast Alaska residents concerned the university would sell, lease or develop them.

Sumdum in Endicott Arm's Sanford Cove is a significant Tlingit cultural site, according to Mary Irwin, who testified Tuesday and asked for the bill amendments that would protect it.

The committee approved Irwin's suggestion that development restrictions "run with the land," or pass on to successive owners. But some committee members called her main suggestion to prohibit any development there "too restrictive."

The opinion forced Muñoz to remove the proposed amendment.

The bill bans mining and timber harvest activities, but Juneau resident Tim Lydon in testimony Tuesday said that's not what users are concerned about.

Tour operators anchor in the bay all summer so thousands of their clients can experience the solitude and wildlife of Sumdum, said Lydon, who testified for 17 small and mid-sized companies.

Tour operators fear a new owner who might purchase the land from the university would develop buildings or docks, Lydon said.

The bill includes about 35,000 acres in Southeast spread among nearly 30 parcels from Haines to south of Ketchikan. Its counterpart is Senate Bill 225.

In testimony, University System Executive Vice President Wendy Redman called the land grants process frustrating.

Legislation to give the university acreage it was promised five decades ago has been considered six times by the Legislature. A similar bill passed in 2005, but was shot down by the state Supreme Court on an argument about funding appropriations.

Parnell introduced the bills this year with the same lands as the 2005 legislation.

"We had already argued this out in detail for a whole session and a half," Redman said. "We're re-discussing this issue."

Touting the university's inclusive land management process, Redman said some residents' worries are not legitimate.

"The university has no intention to put a commercial property on Sumdum. That would be not in our interest to do that," she said.

The committee on Tuesday agreed to remove Lynn Canal, Excursion Inlet and William Henry Bay, all near Haines, from the bill.

Mite Cove in Pelican also has been removed.

A 40-acre parcel in Tenakee Springs, called the harbor parcel by locals, was removed. But a 261-acre parcel that borders Indian River Road remains.

The committee received several letters from Tenakee Springs residents arguing against the transfer.

The Tenakee Traditional Council also made claim to the land, Chairman John Martin Sr. said.

The bill next goes to the House Resources Committee.

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