House approves bill on university lands

Posted: Friday, April 22, 2005

The House on Thursday approved a measure to transfer more than 250,000 acres of state land to the University of Alaska to sell or use for education.

The total land in the bill had been whittled down in committee, but Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said the end result accomplished what has been long overdue: Giving credence to UA's status as a land grant university.

Most lawmakers agreed it is not a perfect bill. Some of the arguments were that more valuable land could have been included, parcels with possible historical significance could have been removed and residents could have gotten more say in the fate of nearby lands.

But in the end, the measure passed 32-5. A companion bill is in the Senate Finance Committee.

"It's a pretty clean bill," university lobbyist Pete Kelly said after the vote. "It went through a lot of compromises."

The land for transfer includes tracts for possible oil and gas development and Southeast Alaska parcels that could be used for fishing lodges. The dozens of parcels of varying size stretch from Coldfoot above the Arctic Circle to the bottom of the Southeastern Panhandle.

Among those who voted against the bill, House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said the state needs to give the university valuable land and the state needs to know the value of the land it is passing on.

"I think this is not a responsible way for us to transfer land. This is not a responsible way to manage assets," Berkowitz said.

An attempt to remove some parcels and replace them with undeveloped oil and gas lands on the North Slope failed on Wednesday. Kelly said the proposal by Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, to transfer Point Thompson to the university was an intriguing idea, but should come in a separate bill.

"If there was a legitimate move to go with Eric's amendment, we'd be crazy not to get on board," Kelly said.

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