Stevens defends North Slope land buy

Posted: Monday, July 12, 2004

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ted Stevens is defending his proposal to have the federal government spend $2.5 million to buy a contaminated site from the family of a longtime political supporter.

Stevens told reporters in Washington, D.C., last week he was angered and disappointed by an Anchorage Daily News editorial that questioned whether the land was worth that much and questioned his ethics in pursuing the deal.

"They're trying to destroy my credibility at the time of the elections," Stevens said. Stevens himself is not up for re-election this year.

The money, in the Senate version of the annual Defense Department spending bill, would buy a 160-acre Native allotment at Oliktok Point from the family of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. President Jacob Adams.

The Adams family has used the spot at least since the 1920s, Stevens' spokeswoman Courtney Schikora said.

In the 1950s, the military built a Distant Early Warning line radar site nearby and began dumping garbage on the land, Stevens said.

Jacob Adams' father applied for the allotment in 1971 and the federal government granted it in 1995, after the elder Adams had died.

The military estimated in 2000 that cleaning up the land would cost $940,000 to $8.5 million, depending on the extent of the effort, Schikora said.

Roger Lucio, an Air Force spokesman in Anchorage, said a draft study issued in March put the cleanup cost at $1.6 million.

The study, completed by an Anchorage consultant, recommended digging up the 0.8-acre landfill where higher concentrations of petroleum, PCBs, arsenic and lead were detected at levels at or above current safety standards in recent years. Metal scrap should be removed from a dock site and a dump, the consultant said, but no significant contamination was detected at either spot.

Lucio told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the military is responsible for the cleanup no matter who owns the land.

Schikora said there is disagreement about the amount of contamination. "There are official dump sites, and then there are sites where they keep finding stuff," she said.

Stevens said his staff decided the best way to resolve the dispute would be to have the government buy the whole parcel.

"They (the military) didn't want to take all the land," Stevens said. "They just wanted to compensate for what was contaminated beyond restoration. Think about that - 'contamination beyond restoration' they were willing to pay for."

Stevens said the allotment is valuable because there is very little such private land in an area with major oil fields, although the family's ownership doesn't include subsurface mineral rights.

Schikora said an appraisal obtained by the family valued the land at $1.9 million. An Air Force official said the government's own appraisal didn't come anywhere close to the private appraisal, though rules prevented him from disclosing the exact government estimate.

Stevens said the military turned down a $2.5 million settlement offer from the Adams family. His staff recommended starting with that figure in the Senate version of the annual Defense spending bill, he said. The House-Senate conference committee must now write a final version of the legislation.

"We decided to put it in the bill to raise the issue to have the military come forward to those of us in the conference and agree to what they're willing to pay and settle this issue," Stevens said.

The Senate proposal essentially would compensate for almost 50 years of trespass, Schikora said.

"They destroyed buildings and graves and all habitation there," Stevens said.

He said he wasn't much involved personally with the proposal in the Defense bill. Most of the work has been done by his staff working with members of the Adams family, he said.

"I haven't talked to Jake about it I don't think for two years at least. I'm not sure Jake was even in the conversation," Stevens said. "I think it was his family with their attorney that first came to me. Several members of the family. The women of the family I think were the primary motivators.

"But I'd do this for any Alaskan," Stevens said.

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