GOP US Senate hopeful against Sealaska lands bill

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2010

ANCHORAGE - U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Miller said Wednesday that rival Lisa Murkowski should withdraw her bill allowing a private Native corporation to select choice lands in the Tongass National Forest.

Miller, who is challenging Murkowski in the Aug. 24 Republican primary, criticized the Alaska senator in a press release for drafting a bill in a nontransparent way that favored some constituent groups at the expense of others.

Miller said he favors the transfer of federal land to Alaskans but believes that all parties need a seat at the negotiating table.

Murkowski needs to withdraw her bill for further review and public feedback, he said.

"Clearly, citizens in Southeast Alaska feel they are not being heard," Miller said.

Miller, 43, is a tea party favorite who has the support of former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. He is in favor of limiting the size and power of the federal government to what is explicit in the U.S. Constitution.

He said Murkowski failed to adequately make the bill available for public review and comment, only last week posting a revision to her website when faced with increased pressure to do so. Maps to illustrate the proposed changes were posted this week.

Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said the senator remains committed to an "open and transparent" process balancing the needs of Sealaska shareholders and Southeast Alaska residents.

He said Murkowski's staff had attended numerous community meetings to discuss the bill.

"She fully understands this is a contentious issue and will continue to work to find a compromise that will work for the majority of the people of Southeast. There is absolutely no desire to ram this bill through without a full and open process," Dillon said.

The Murkowski-sponsored bill would convey up to 85,000 acres in the nation's largest national forest to Sealaska Corp. The Native corporation is owed the acreage under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. One feature of the bill allowing Sealaska to pick land parcels outside designated areas is angering communities that would be most affected.

Eight communities sent Murkowski a letter last week stating their opposition to the bill and encouraging the senator to be more forthcoming about what is in it.

The bill now appears headed for a vote this month in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where Murkowski is the ranking Republican.

The revised bill has improved but still needs a lot of work, said Wayne Regelin, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner who is president of the Territorial Sportsmen in Juneau, a group dedicated to preserving hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities in Alaska.

"They need to work with the local communities," he said.

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