Senate panel resists change to university land bill

House Finance Committee is scheduled to take up its version of the bill today

Posted: Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Senate committee struck down an amendment Monday that would allow further removal of some Southeast Alaska land parcels from a University of Alaska land grant bill.

After hearing unanimous public testimony against the bill, however, Senate Resources Committee Chairman Tom Wagoner decided to hold the bill.

The House Finance Committee is taking up its version of the bill today.

The original version of the bill, spearheaded by Gov. Murkowski, would allow the University of Alaska to select 260,000 acres of state land throughout Alaska to provide future income to the university through investment, land leases or sales.

After the Senate Resources Committee voted down party lines and rejected the amendment proposed by Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, the members took testimony from more than 15 Alaska residents who opposed either the bill or certain parcels included in the bill.

Elton's amendment was based on a draft House bill amendment allowing deletion of a few additional Southeast Alaska parcels, including an archeological Tlingit site near Tracy Arm and three properties on northwest Chicagof Island.

The Senate Committee majority members rejected deletion of those parcels on Monday.

After their vote, Deb Spencer, a Pelican business owner, testified to the committee by phone that the three university land selections on northwest Chichagof would leave islanders with no land to select for borough formation.

The island has already given its fair share of land to the university in prior land grants, Spencer said.

"We feel there needs to be equity," she said.

John Herscenrider, of Warm Springs Bay, used his community's only working phone to tell the Senate committee that they should take note of the unanimous opposition to the bill in legislative testimony from residents so far. Warm Springs Bay is on the east coast of Baranof Island, 20 miles east of Sitka.

"All of you have been elected by the public," Herscenrider said, adding that legislators weren't elected to behave like "a political machine."

"Kill this bill and find another way to fund the university," he said.

So far, Alaska residents who have testified against inclusion of specific parcels in the bill have listed potential harm to existing property values, watershed uses, subsistence and recreation.

Primary targets for deletion in the House and Senate bills include parcels in the Kodiak Launch site, Warm Springs Bay and Neets Bay, the site of a regional fish hatchery, and a few other parcels scattered throughout Southeast Alaska.

The original controversy on the bill began in Kodiak and Southeast Alaska, but now McCarthy and Coldfoot residents have jumped into the fray.

Michelle Niland, of McCarthy, testified Monday that 75 McCarthy residents - basically the entire town, she said - had signed a petition against the bill, which she called "a recipe for disaster."

Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, said he has another idea to change the bill.

Seekins said he plans to draft a letter of intent proposing a restriction that prevents the university from selling the land to a nonprofit organization for future conservation as public land.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com



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