Alaska editorials: Public use bill needs action

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2010

Many people tend to work better under deadline, and legislators are no exception. They have a small but important task to complete by the mid-April end-of-session deadline - the renewal of the Goldstream Public Use Area.

The Legislature temporarily designated the area for public recreation purposes 20 years ago. The designation will expire this year without action to extend it.

A bill to renew and make the protections permanent, sponsored by Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, is winding its way through the legislative committee system. It doesn't have any obvious opposition.

That might be comforting to advocates of the public use area, but it's no guarantee of action. Plenty of more weighty and controversial issues can push lesser legislation such as this off the radar screen. Bills of this sort also can get caught in the crossfire created when unrelated issues blow up.

Ideally, the bill would pass soon so it doesn't get lost in the frantic last days of the session. In the least, it needs to be reviewed and positioned for passage now so it's ready to go if it does come down to the final days of the session.

The public use area ensures that much of Goldstream Valley's bottom land remains in state ownership and open to a variety of recreational uses. It not only forms a core block of 2,000 acres for such uses but also hosts numerous trails - maintained by volunteers - that connect to other areas.

Of course, land in the Goldstream Public Use Area wouldn't be instantly sold off or developed if the designation expires this year. And the Legislature could always renew the withdrawal and make it permanent next year or the next.

But the scheduled expiration this year offers legislators a unique and time-tested motivational tool - a deadline. They should strive to meet it.

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