A proposed land exchange in Hoonah that has created political turmoil for the Southeast Alaska village's Native corporation has been approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, according to Alaska U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, the committee chairman.
In March, Murkowski reintroduced the Huna Totem Corp. Land Exchange to permit the corporation to exchange 1,999 acres near Hoonah's watershed for other lands. The committee this morning approved the bill unanimously, clearing it for Senate floor consideration.
"One of the main purposes of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was for villages to acquire lands they could develop to produce income for the corporation's members," Murkowski said in a news release. "In this case Hoonah has been unable to develop the lands they were forced to select because of the terrain in the area."
The Hoonah bill will require any timber harvested from any newly selected lands to be processed in Alaska. In return for the extension of the primary manufacturing requirement to private lands - the provision currently applies only to U.S. Forest Service lands - Huna could be eligible for additional compensation if the value of its newly selected lands is reduced.
Conversely, the government would be eligible for additional compensation if it's determined the land it gets is less valuable than those conveyed.
Hoonah's 1975 land selections were complicated because the terrain surrounding the town - steep hillsides and cliffs - forced selection of non-economical lands. The bill allows the corporation to select other, as yet undesignated lands, on an equal value exchange - protecting the town's drinking water supply. Under the 1971 act villages had to select lands inside townships surrounding the village core.
The land exchange has been controversial because some Huna Totem shareholders object to putting land with cultural and historical significance under control of the federal government. That sparked a failed board recall effort in 1999, and in turn a lawsuit that has been pending in Superior Court.
In January, state officials ruled that the corporation's management violated corporate election law in conducting the recall, and they later assessed a $2,500 fine under an agreement in which management did not admit fault.