Leaders of the Athabascan village of Minto would regain possession of the historic site of the village through a bill proposed by state Sen. Georgianna Lincoln.
The Minto Village Council spurred Lincoln, D-Rampart, to introduce the bill, which would remove the 31-acre site from a state game refuge and authorize the Department of Natural Resources to convey it to the village.
The original Minto site is on the Tanana River about 40 miles west of Fairbanks. It was abandoned in 1969 because of flooding and riverbank erosion. Residents relocated 23 miles north on a spur road off the Elliott Highway.
Residents still have a strong connection to the original site, said Andy Jimmie, chief of the Minto Village Council. Cemeteries and buildings remain and Minto residents return to hunt, fish, camp or visit grave sites.
"A lot of the older people, they like to just go down there and camp out down there for a few days, a few weeks," Jimmie told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The town site is also put to official use: The Interior Athabascan Cultural Heritage and Education Institute runs cultural education camps there. It is also the location of the Old Minto Recovery Camp, an alcohol rehabilitation program run by the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
Ownership of the town site reverted to the state when it was abandoned, and in 1988 it became part of the Minto Flats State Game Refuge.
Minto groups seeking to use or to make changes to the site often must secure permits from the state Department of Fish and Game, which manages the site. The heritage institute has to lease the site from the state. It's a system that vexes Jimmie and a big reason the Minto Village Council wants to regain control.
"All the older peoples, (it's) the land that they were born and raised on," Jimmie said. "It doesn't seem right."
Matt Robus, head of the Department of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation, agreed.
"It was somewhat awkward to talk to anybody who grew up in that place about their needing a permit," he said.
Robus said his department has no objection to Lincoln's bill and DNR officials have not raised concerns. Robus told the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee that not having to issue permits for the site would simplify things for the state.
"In terms of refuge management, this makes perfect sense to us," he said.
Lincoln introduced the bill last year and it received its first hearing Wednesday. It now heads to the Senate Resources Committee.