Juneau residents will have an opportunity Saturday to share their views on a land trade that would put federal land near Berners Bay into the hands of Native corporations.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday said she would hold a 212-hour town meeting at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall downtown to hear local comments on the trade.
The land exchange is the subject of a Murkowski-sponsored federal bill that would allow the U.S. Department of the Interior to trade the federal land near Berners Bay to Sealaska Native Corp. and Cape Fox Native Corp. in exchange for land near Ketchikan. Sealaska is the Southeast Alaska regional Native corporation and Cape Fox is a village Native corporation in Saxman.
Berners Bay, 40 miles north of downtown Juneau, is heavily used by hunters, hikers, fishermen and kayakers.
It's also next to the proposed Kensington gold mine that the Native corporations hope to service after developer Coeur Alaska obtains the necessary permits.
The agreement would allow Coeur to consolidate lands already held in the area with privately held lands near the mine site.
Coeur has said development of the mine would last at least 15 years and employ 325 workers during construction and 225 during the mining process.
The town meeting will start at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Cape Fox, Sealaska, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and Friends of Berners Bay will present their comments on the legislation.
After the presentations, others will be given two to three minutes each to speak.
Murkowski held formal congressional hearings on the bill in Anchorage, but not in Juneau. That sparked protests when the senator visited Juneau last month.
"While congressional hearings usually are limited in scope, it was clear during my August visit to Juneau that a number of residents wanted to present their views on the bill. It also was clear that there might be some misunderstandings about what the bill does and doesn't do, so it made sense to come, explain the bill and give residents a more complete opportunity to express themselves," Murkowski said.
Kat Hall of SEACC said the organization is glad Murkowski decided to hold the meeting.
"While the two hours is not enough time for everybody who would like to speak to speak, we hope that people will come to the meeting regardless and show Sen. Murkowski how valuable Berners Bay is to the Juneau community," Hall said.
Bruce Borup, Cape Fox CEO, and Sealaska spokesman Todd Antioquia did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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