Lands bills should be blocked

Letter to the editor

Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2005

I've been a resident of Inian Islands near Elfin Cove for 11 years and am strongly opposed to Governor Murkowski's University Lands bills, HB 130 and SB 96, in their current form. As written, they would transfer state-owned lands in Idaho Inlet, Mite Cove and Pelican, among others, to the University of Alaska. This transfer of land is unsuitable for several economic reasons.

First, selling land in big chunks will depress the value of real estate currently for sale in areas such as Pelican, Elfin Cove and Excursion Inlet and will likely depress land values for decades. Before giving away our potential for future growth, it would be best to let the land market find its feet.

Southeast Alaska is being asked to give a disproportionate share of its state lands in this transfer. Ten percent of Southeast's state lands are among the selections, while the percentage for the rest of the state is 0.21 percent. If these Southeast parcels are chosen, virtually all of the state lands of Northwest Chichagof Island will be unavailable for future allotments and borough selections. Tiny Mike Island in front of Elfin Cove will be the only state land left in this area.

This land transfer would exacerbate Northwest Chichagof Island's economically depressed status. I've already seen that when resources are sold to non-residents, the buyers bring in their own people as labor. They buy their food elsewhere, and frequently don't purchase power from the local utility. The only economic boost they provide is the purchase of fuel. This is a poor trade for the impact it will have on our communities. We don't know what the future brings, but if these lands are sold to non-residents, there will be no net gain to the economy of the state. It's important to keep some state lands in our "economic futures" savings account.

The University has claimed that it will work with locals to find mutually beneficial solutions. By their behavior in my community's locale, I doubt their ability to keep this promise. The University was given 835 acres of Yakobi Island, which they sold in 2001 for $1.5 million. Local people were told nothing about this sale and given no chance to comment.

Our legislators need to fix this bill so it doesn't hurt local people and communities and find more appropriate ways to fund the University.

Jane Button

Elfin Cove

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