04 March 2005

University Lands Bill Should Be Scrapped


Overwhelming opposition from communities around the state makes it clear that HB 130, a bill proposed by Governor Murkowski transferring state lands to the University of Alaska, is not in the best interests of either the University or Alaska communities. It will lock up lands now used for public recreation and subsistence and provide little financial benefit to the university.

First, a little background: the lands to be conveyed to the university were selected through unpublicized negotiations between the university and the Department of Natural Resources during the past year. None of the communities in which these lands are located were notified or included in the selection process. During House Resources Committee hearings on the bill, communities and individuals expressed reservations concerning the lack of public process and outright opposition to the parcel selections.

A particularly egregious example of circumventing public process is the Narrow Cape parcel in Kodiak (erroneously labeled “Kodiak Rocket Range” in the bill). While the university and DNR were negotiating the inclusion of this parcel in the university land grant list, DNR was creating a comprehensive land use plan for state land on Kodiak Island. At no time during the 18 month public process did DNR inform the community that the university was selecting state lands included in the land use plan. The Narrow Cape parcel was of such importance to the community that a special public meeting was held in Kodiak to allow residents to hear DNR clarifications of plans for the area as well as present testimony on the parcel. Local citizens overwhelmingly emphasized the importance of keeping unrestricted access to this area for public recreation, commercial tourism operations, and subsistence activities.

This parcel is currently leased by the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation for the Kodiak Launch Complex. A public road running through the KLC has allowed historic access to some of the best recreational and subsistence lands on our road system since the road was constructed in the 1940’s. In the past year, AADC has attempted to expand their management authority by 14,000 acres and restrict access to Narrow Cape, ostensibly for “security reasons” during Missile Defense test launches. Local residents and members of our borough government have vigorously opposed these restrictions. The current fear is that if the land is transferred to the university, it could be sold to AADC, allowing them, as landowner, to restrict access. With University of Alaska President, Mark Hamilton, as the Chairman of the AADC Board of Directors, there is cause for even greater concern. If the university decides to hang on to the land, they too as a private landowner could restrict access when they choose to develop it.

Other communities, who, like Kodiak, have limited road systems, fear the loss of public use of state lands in or near their communities. Once these lands leave public ownership, they can be “locked up” by private landowners, restricting or even prohibiting what has been long-time traditional and historical use of these public areas.

Overall, the bill provides minimal financial benefit, discourages serious financial support, doesn’t maximize land value, and gives the University a bad name.

Added to these concerns is the fact that Senator Lisa Murkowski has introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate, S.293, to grant the university 250,000 acres of federal land with an additional selection of 250,000 acres if Alaska HB 130/SB 96 passes. Between the federal and state bills, three quarters of a million acres of public land would be in danger of being locked up for private development without public input. After DNR’s and the university’s behavior in Kodiak, I can’t see Alaska communities coming out ahead with these bills.

HB 130 is a bad bill and amendments and tinkering won’t fix it. It should die in committee. Governor Murkowski, DNR, and UA need to start over with a fully public process for determining lands to be chosen for conveyance

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