My turn: Evolution of university land-grab bill is shameful

By Rick Fleischman

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Movie producer Quentin Taratino should film his next sequel here in Alaska, "Kill Bill 130".

House Bill 130, just passed out of the House Resource Committee, would transfer 260,000 acres of state land to the University of Alaska for "development." I have been following the progress of this bill from the small community of Baranof, in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. A parcel of land here is included in the proposed land transfer.

During one House Resource meeting Chairman Ramras characterized opposition to the bill as complaints by "people who don't want to pay for it but don't want others to have it." This is simply not true. The public concern is that several inappropriate parcels of land will be transferred to the University of Alaska in this bill. The community of Baranof is not anti-development. Lots are available for sale in the townsite and new property owners have building plans for the near future.

There was no opportunity for public input into the selection of lands to be transferred. The governor did not consult the affected communities when he put this bill together. Discussions between DNR and the University were not open to the public. The House Resource Committee did take public testimony on the bill. I calculate the total time allotted for public testimony as 83/1000 of a second per acre, and that includes time for potty breaks. That is too little, too late.

Chairman Ramras has taken pains to describe the University as a kind, understanding landlord and steward for the public good. The time for the warm and fuzzy university property managers to discuss their plans for our communities is now, before the state transfers ownership to them and they become the 800-pound hairy gorilla with bad breath. The 276-acre parcel here in Baranof will engulf the 20-acre townsite. There has been no opportunity for community concerns to be heard and answered regarding water quality, damage to our fragile hotsprings, and development around the salt chuck.

In 2002 DNR spent time and money developing its 20 year Area Land Plan. The land to be transferred in Warm Springs Bay is classified as "RU." "RU" is defined by DNR as "Public Recreation and Tourism Undeveloped." The management intent, as the plan states for the land in question, is "to be retained by the state and managed to protect the warm springs, maintain the natural resources/scenic value of the parcel, and ensure continuation of its use for dispersed recreation."

DNR spokesman Bob Loeffler testified to the committee that all lands in Southeast selected for the transfer are classified for development. This is not the case in Baranof. The state did a multi-year Area Land Plan utilizing public input and concluded in 2002 that this property should be preserved by the state for undeveloped public recreation. Three years into the 20-year plan the governor announces, with no advance warning or public input, that the same land is now a perfect piece to grant to the University for "development." Loeffler further testified that the carefully studied intents and classification of the 2002 Area Land Plan will no longer apply upon transfer to the University.

The process by which this land-grab bill has evolved is shameful. It evokes images of shady wheelers and dealers in dark, smoke-filled rooms, drawing and redrawing lines on maps with no regard to established communities, public opinion, and in the case of Baranof, contradicting the state's own management intent.

The Sitka Assembly voted unanimously to oppose HB 130, which transfers large areas within the borough of Sitka to the University. The public testimony heard by the House Resource Committee has been unanimously opposed to the bill. I urge the House to seriously consider the public opposition to this bill. House Bill 130 should be killed completely, and replaced with a bill that gives the public some control over land in and near their communities. No lands classified by DNR as public recreation land should be included in any transfer to the University for development.

• Rick Fleischman runs sailing charters out of Sitka and is the winter caretaker of Baranof Wilderness Lodge in Warm Springs Bay.

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