Governor signs bill transferring 250,000 state acres to university

Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Gov. Frank Murkowski on Monday signed into law a bill transferring 250,000 acres of state land to the University of Alaska over the next three years.

Murkowski said the conveyance was a long time coming. Before the bill's signing, the university had owned and managed 183,000 acres, putting Alaska near the bottom of the list in acreage granted to universities.

"This is a land grant college without any land," Murkowski said. "I always felt that was an injustice."

Murkowski said the "relatively modest" conveyance could be the impetus for giving more land to the university, which would help the university's finances and put more land into private ownership.

The land to be transferred is scattered across the state in parcels that range in size from just a few acres to a 90,000-acre tract in the Nenana Basin. The university intends to sell some of the parcels to generate income and use others for education and research.

University President Mark Hamilton said the school is finally a land grant university, 90 years after getting the mandate from the federal government.

"We're going to take care of this land," he said.

The state land is meant to be a match to a federal bill transferring another 250,000 acres to the university.

The federal bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was introduced in February. Spokeswoman Kristin Pugh said Monday the state's transfer won't necessarily spur action at the federal level.

"Unfortunately, I am not sure that it will," she said. The August recess is just a week away and no work is likely to happen on the bill this week. Beyond the recess, "it's hard to guarantee anything in the Senate," she said.

The state Legislature earlier this year passed the bill after removing 10,000 contentious acres from the original version. The bill was one of the most hotly debated of the legislative session and residents living near the parcels, particularly those in land-starved Southeast Alaska, complained bitterly about the lack of public process in choosing the parcels to transfer.

In 1915 and 1929, the federal government approved transferring 360,000 acres of land to what would become the university as a way for the school to generate revenue. Only 112,000 acres were actually given to the university.

Since statehood, university land grant bills were either killed or vetoed five times.

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