State aims to sell 55K acres

Land sale would be the biggest in years

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2001

ANCHORAGE The state is preparing for its largest land sale since the mid-1980s, and this time officials hope to avoid problems of past sales including people who bid but don't pay up.

About 55,000 acres will be put up for sale over the next two years, including property in Southeast, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Kodiak.

The properties include about 50,000 acres of surveyed land in lots from one to 40 acres as well as about 5,000 acres of uncharted parcels in remote wilderness areas such as north of Skwentna and in Ugak Bay on Kodiak Island. Most parcels were offered in previous land sales, but either there were no takers or the deals didn't close.

Few of the lots are accessible by road. Buyers will have to reach their property by boat or plane or in some cases by following a rough trail.

The Southeast offerings this summer are a 3.4-acre parcel at Frederick Point North on Shelter Island, within Juneau city limits; 24 parcels about 3 miles east of Petersburg's central business district; and 15 parcels in Whale Pass on Prince of Wales Island.

The deadline for submitting applications and bids is July 16, and people have been showing up in droves. State offices are being flooded with e-mails and phone calls. Even prison inmates have written seeking more information, said Kathy Johnson, a natural resources technician who has handled many inquiries.

"They want to be as far away from humanity as possible," she said.

The latest land sale is the result of a 1997 bill passed by the Legislature, but sales of state land have been going on for the past 30 years.

The state owns more than 100 million acres in Alaska. In the past 20 years, it has spent more than $60 million to sell about 182,000 acres, not including agricultural tracts, according to records kept by the state Division of Mining, Land and Water. Far more land has been offered for sale over the years, including homesteads and parcels offered in programs in which people could stake land for a few dollars.

Some sales, such as farm projects at Delta Junction and Point MacKenzie, often failed outright, the farmers done in by huge loans and development deadlines. Other people bid on land with dreams of building a wilderness homestead. Some succeeded. But most failed, finding themselves overwhelmed by the difficulty of pioneering the land and the cost of getting it surveyed.

State land sales have fared better in recent years, as the state has offered smaller chunks in sealed-bid auctions. Of more than 6,000 acres offered since 1995, the state has sold about 4,000, said Sandy Singer, a natural resources manager for the state land division.

Unlike in past programs, hopeful land owners cannot get a discount by proving up, or simply building and living on the land.

They either have to buy the property outright, or, in the case of one program designed for remote recreational sites, they can lease the land for $100 a year and pay up to $2,700 a year to the state to pay the costs to survey it. Those upfront costs should discourage people who really can't afford to buy property, said Bob Loeffler, who heads the Division of Mining, Land, and Water. They have to buy it at the appraised price but get credit for the survey deposit.

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