House approves university land transfer bill

More than half of educational land for Tanana Valley research forest

Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The House of Representatives approved a bill Monday transferring about 250,000 acres of state-owned land to the University of Alaska.

The proposal by Gov. Frank Murkowski originally identified 260,000 acres, but about 10,000 acres were removed in legislative committees this session. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

Many throughout the state have argued that the public was not involved during the selection process of 71 parcels of land identified in Murkowski's original version of the bill.

More than 40,102 acres would have come from investment properties in the Southeast region, 39,222 acres include investment properties outside of Southeast, 90,000 acres are located in the Nenana Basin for oil and gas exploration and 90,675 acres include so-called educational properties.

More than half of the educational property land would be used to create a university research forest in the Tanana Valley State Forest to research forest practices, ecology, wildlife management and recreation, according to the administration.

Lawmakers have been deadlocked during the special session over the budget, and bills to overhaul workers' compensation and state employee retirement laws. Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, who has pushed the lands bill throughout the session, urged his House colleagues to approve the bill because most could agree on the final proposal.

"In this time where good news is so sparse and we're sitting here on our hands, it sure would be nice to do a little good work," Ramras said.

He said those concerned over the land transfer would have their fears put to rest once it is set in motion.

"These folks are fearful of change, as we all are in our own lives," he said. "And I think that they will find that over the next 10-, 20-, 30-year time horizon when this land is sold that the people who buy these parcels are not going to be McDonald's franchisees and not Wal-Marts."

He said it would be people who would share their own values.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, voted in favor of the bill but said he is skeptical it will bring in much revenue for the university system as intended.

"It's got good and bad in it," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be proven wrong."

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said she voted against the bill because she felt it was "sprung on everybody at the beginning of the session."

Wilson said communities should have been more involved in the parcel selection process.

The bill is House Bill 130.

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