Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/08/2003 02:16 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HOUSE BILL NO. 210                                                                                                           
      An Act relating to the Chitina dip net fishery; and                                                                       
      providing for an effective date.                                                                                          
 REPRESENTATIVE  JOHN  COGHILL  advised  that  HB  210   would                                                                  
 eliminate the  $25  dollar  fee  for a  Chitina  Dip  netting                                                                  
 permit.  In 2000, the  Legislature imposed the increased  fee                                                                  
 to guarantee access  to the fishery  by utilizing $18  dollar                                                                  
 per  permit  to   pay  AHTNA  and   Chitina  Corporations   a                                                                  
 trespassing fee for river access across their land.                                                                            
 Legislation promoted by  Senator Pete Kelly provided  funding                                                                  
 to undertake  a  survey  in 2001.     There  was  a  specific                                                                  
 $100,000 dollar  appropriation  for survey  and signs.    The                                                                  
 Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOTPF)  was                                                                  
 able to  obtain  the person  who  had done  the  majority  of                                                                  
 surveying for  native  allotments using  aerial photography.                                                                   
 There is  approximately  $54,000 dollars  remaining  for  the                                                                  
 brochure design  and printing  costs.   DOTPF indicated  that                                                                  
 enough  remains  and  would  include  two information   signs                                                                  
 placed at the Pavilion and O'Brien.                                                                                            
 Representative Coghill  pointed out that  the results of  the                                                                  
 survey indicate  that  the vast  majority  of access  to  the                                                                  
 river is public  land, thus,  there should be  no reason  for                                                                  
 people to trespass  on private  lands to  access the  Chitina                                                                  
 fisheries.  One key facet of the legislation is to make  sure                                                                  
 the public access  is adequately marked  in order to  protect                                                                  
 private property owners from trespassing.                                                                                      
 Last year  Gordy  Williams,  legislative  liaison, testified                                                                   
 that the Chitina dip net fishery is the largest in the  State                                                                  
 and in  2001, the  Department of  Fish and  Game issued  over                                                                  
 8,000 household  permits.  The  elimination of  the fee is  a                                                                  
 policy call, stipulating that Chitina is the only fishery  in                                                                  
 the State  that has  been singled  out to  pay a maintenance                                                                   
 fee.  Representative Coghill  maintained that Chitina  should                                                                  
 be handled in the same manner as all other fisheries.                                                                          
 JOE HART, (TESTIFIED  VIA TELECONFERENCE),  GENERAL  MANAGER,                                                                  
 CHITINA NATIVE  CORPORATION, GLENNALLEN,  submitted  comments                                                                  
 on the  proposed legislation.   He emphasized  the  following                                                                  
 points and addressed  the impacts that  the dip netters  have                                                                  
 and the pressures placed  on private property.  He commented                                                                   
 that those concerns seem to be overlooked.                                                                                     
      ·    Cutting of trees                                                                                                     
      ·    Building of new trails                                                                                               
      ·    Fire rings and fires                                                                                                 
      ·    Left behind trash at campsites                                                                                       
      ·    Parking and camping                                                                                                  
      ·    Shooting                                                                                                             
      ·    Fish remains from cleaning                                                                                           
 Mr. Hart listed the pressures on the community and services:                                                                   
      ·    Dumping of trash prior to leaving Chitina in                                                                         
           available dumpsters                                                                                                  
      ·    Stress placed on very limited emergency medical                                                                      
      ·    Additional and heavy traffic, speeding and damage                                                                    
           to roads                                                                                                             
      ·    Increased use of laundry facilities and public                                                                       
           water wells                                                                                                          
      ·    Increased potential for forest fires requiring                                                                       
           additional monitoring by Chitina's volunteer fire                                                                    
      ·    Increased numbers of visitors for law enforcement                                                                    
           to deal with and monitor                                                                                             
 Mr. Hart clarified that  this is an access issue, regardless                                                                   
 of the  fisheries classification  and  that the  dip  netters                                                                  
 will be accessing the  Copper River across private  property.                                                                  
 Comments have  indicated  that the  fee structure  should  be                                                                  
 determined based  upon  classification.   The access  is  the                                                                  
 same regardless  of the classification  and should  not be  a                                                                  
 factor in establishment  of the fee.   Access is access,  and                                                                  
 that is  what the  fee is  used for.   The  requirement of  a                                                                  
 sport license should not impact the amount of the fee.                                                                         
 With the landslide south  of O'Brien Creek closing the  road,                                                                  
 the dip netters will be impacting private properties  because                                                                  
 the right-of-way  is closed  at the  slide.   That creates  a                                                                  
 very unsafe situation similar to what happened on the  Denali                                                                  
 Highway several years  ago.  The State  of Alaska closed  the                                                                  
 highway, yet a car was allowed to travel the highway  and the                                                                  
 passengers got  stuck and  froze.  Such  circumstance  places                                                                  
 the State in a bad legal situation.  That ground is  unstable                                                                  
 and not scheduled to be repaired due to the large costs.                                                                       
 Mr. Hart continued, between  8,000 and 10,000 people  descend                                                                  
 on the town with  a population of  123, some making  multiple                                                                  
 trips.  During  the height of the  fishery, 2,000 people  may                                                                  
 be present  daily.    Proportionately,  that  would  be  like                                                                  
 500,000 tourists  descending  on Juneau.   Those  people  all                                                                  
 have trash and  sewage, which  must be disposed  of.   Unlike                                                                  
 Juneau,  Chitina   has  no   local  police   force  for   law                                                                  
 enforcement or other infrastructure.                                                                                           
 Another concern  is  the misuse  of  the right-of-way.    The                                                                  
 State of Alaska  would not  allow 10,000 people  to camp  and                                                                  
 recreate on  the Glenn  Highway in  Anchorage.   People  have                                                                  
 suggested placing  signs and  fences.   In the  past,  wooden                                                                  
 signs were  used  for firewood  and  metal signs  for  target                                                                  
 practice.   Fencing  of  the  property is  not  in  the  best                                                                  
 interest of the view shed, tourism or the Alaskan landscape.                                                                   
 The legal  width of  the right-of-way  is not  in agreement.                                                                   
 The legal  case Chitina  Native Corporation  had against  the                                                                  
 State  of  Alaska  in  the  early  1990's  was  not   pursued                                                                  
 aggressively because of  a good faith  offering by the  State                                                                  
 of Alaska for the establishment  of this fee.  Now the  State                                                                  
 wants to "back out"  of the agreed  position.  He noted  that                                                                  
 Department   of   Transportation    &   Public   Facilities'                                                                   
 documentation indicates the  same right-of-way at the end  of                                                                  
 the McCarthy road, which is only 200 feet.                                                                                     
 Mr.  Hart   claimed  that   the  State   of   Alaska  has   a                                                                  
 responsibility to  protect the  private property  located  in                                                                  
 proximity to the fishery.   The issue seems to be focused  on                                                                  
 one side of that fishery  where the right-of-way is  located.                                                                  
 The fishermen use  both sides of  the river  and do not  stay                                                                  
 below the  ordinary mean  high water  mark, which  has  never                                                                  
 been established  by the  State of  Alaska or  the Bureau  of                                                                  
 Land Management (BLM) on the Copper River.                                                                                     
 There are frequently releases  of raw sewage from RV's  along                                                                  
 the roadways  and in  the gravel  pits.   People clean  their                                                                  
 fish at Suzy  Lake and  then leave the  fish remains  behind,                                                                  
 creating problem  bears for  the town.   Chitina,  a town  of                                                                  
 only few dozen  people, is left  with the  trash of 8,000  to                                                                  
 10,000  people.     The  dumpsters   and  toilet  facilities                                                                   
 currently available now  through the  fees are not adequate.                                                                   
 The fear is that  the dumpsters, toilets,  or our lands  will                                                                  
 become a dumping ground for the public.                                                                                        
 Mr. Hart added that the funds for proper enforcement  for the                                                                  
 fishery are not going to be increased, which means little  or                                                                  
 no monitoring  and enforcement  of trespassing  laws for  the                                                                  
 State of Alaska  private properties.   The best solution  for                                                                  
 the State of Alaska  would be to  continue its agreement  for                                                                  
 incidental use  of 75% of  private property.   The amount  of                                                                  
 dip  netters  being   represented  by   the  Chitina   Dipnet                                                                  
 Association  is   a  very   small  minority   consisting   of                                                                  
 membership of  only 500  people.   Mr. Hart  emphasized  that                                                                  
 there are 9,000  to 10,000  dip netters who  use the  fishery                                                                  
 each season.                                                                                                                   
 The negative impacts  brought by the  dip netters to  Chitina                                                                  
 are growing.  The Legislature is considering removing  one of                                                                  
 the only  funding sources  for the  Village to  work with  in                                                                  
 dealing with  the pressures on  all of  the other properties                                                                   
 impacted by not  only these users, but  also all visitors  to                                                                  
 the area.   Leaving the fee  in place would  not deny  anyone                                                                  
 access to the fishery and  they would simply be asked by  the                                                                  
 State of Alaska to assist  in paying for the access to do  so                                                                  
 and clean up the trash and toilets they use.                                                                                   
 Before there was an agreement between the State, Chitina  and                                                                  
 AHTNA, village members patrolled the lands and were  met with                                                                  
 angry dip netters who were distraught because they could  not                                                                  
 access the river.  Many  dip netters bring weapons with  them                                                                  
 to Chitina,  and when combined  with alcohol,  it creates  an                                                                  
 unsafe situation.   This  could likely  lead to  a range  war                                                                  
 situation where  representatives  may  be injured  or  indeed                                                                  
 killed in the process of protecting the lands.                                                                                 
 Mr. Hart  added that  although no  one wants  to address  it,                                                                  
 Native lands  are not  viewed in  the same  light or  treated                                                                  
 with the same respect  as other private  lands.  Dip  netters                                                                  
 would not wander,  throw trash in,  or relieve themselves  in                                                                  
 someone's back  yard in Kenai  with the  same abandoned  that                                                                  
 they do in Chitina.                                                                                                            
 Mr. Hart recommended that the  Committee not pass HB 210  and                                                                  
 allow the State of Alaska  and the Department of Fish &  Game                                                                  
 to enter into an agreement  with a fee of $15 per permit  for                                                                  
 the next  year.    There  needs to  be  meetings  focused  on                                                                  
 looking at  long-term solutions  to the  issues and  concerns                                                                  
 raised.   Members  of departments  from  the State  could  be                                                                  
 requested to present answers to the many questions,  and then                                                                  
 the private property owners  could bring forward reasons  for                                                                  
 compensation for the impacts.   He stressed that the time  is                                                                  
 short and that  the dip net  fishery opens  in June and  that                                                                  
 there is  not enough  time to  deal with  all the unresolved                                                                   
 issues.  For  that reason, Chitina  requests an extension  of                                                                  
 the current  agreement for  another year,  during which  time                                                                  
 all of the issues could be addressed.                                                                                          
 RUTH ANN  WARDEN,  (TESTIFIED  VIA  TELECONFERENCE),  SPECIAL                                                                  
 PROJECT COORDINATOR,  AHTNA NATIVE  CORPORATION, GLENNALLEN,                                                                   
 voiced  concern with  removing  the  fee.    The  remedy  for                                                                  
 mitigating the issues  has not been determined.   There is  a                                                                  
 long list of problems and  issues as referenced by Mr.  Hart.                                                                  
 Ms. Warden emphasized that  trespassing on the property is  a                                                                  
 "huge" concern.  That is  true especially in the areas  where                                                                  
 the people are recreating, fishing and hunting.  The  current                                                                  
 plan  does  work.    The  plan allows   Chitina,  the  Indian                                                                  
 corporation and  the  State of  Alaska  to work  together  to                                                                  
 address some of these issues.   It provides access for  those                                                                  
 people through the private lands without ramifications.                                                                        
 Ms. Warden stressed that it  would not be a good solution  to                                                                  
 remove the fees and attempt to address all these issues  in a                                                                  
 short period of  time.  A year  extension would be desirable                                                                   
 to work out these concerns.                                                                                                    
 Co-Chair Williams pointed out that a similar issue exists  in                                                                  
 Ketchikan.   He  commented  on  map  distributed  by  Senator                                                                  
 Lincoln, indicating  that a snow  slide that  washed out  the                                                                  
 road system.    Land in  Saxman has  experienced  these  same                                                                  
 types of problems.   Placement of signs  did not work so  the                                                                  
 Native  Corporation  began   working  with  the  public   and                                                                  
 building up the facilities  for the public  to use.  That  is                                                                  
 paying off for his  area and asked if  that could be done  in                                                                  
 Chitina, charging  and  then  policing.   The  State  can  no                                                                  
 longer be collecting  fees and policing  those areas for  the                                                                  
 dip net  fishery.  He  inquired if  it would  be possible  to                                                                  
 build a road to the waters  edge to help control the flow  of                                                                  
 Mr. Hart responded  that they had tried  to control the  flow                                                                  
 using a gated  area, which  required someone to  be on  guard                                                                  
 24-hours a  day.  The  public did  not like  that access  and                                                                  
 complained  to the  Department  of  Transportation  &  Public                                                                  
 Facilities and the Department of Fish and Game.  That  entire                                                                  
 concern was  placed into  litigation.   He  reminded  members                                                                  
 that there are 8,000 to  10,000 dip netters in comparison  to                                                                  
 the 500 people  encouraging passage of  the legislation.   He                                                                  
 surmised that  there could  be a  program built  but that  it                                                                  
 would be impossible to implement that this year.                                                                               
 SENATOR GEORGIANNA  LINCOLN highlighted  the map distributed                                                                   
 to the Committee members.                                                                                                      
 TAPE HFC 03 - 83, Side B                                                                                                     
 Senator Lincoln  pointed out  the O'Brien  Creek  area.   She                                                                  
 noted how each  area would  be affected  by the trespassing,                                                                   
 pointing out that the best fishing is at some of the  bluffs.                                                                  
 Bluffs do  not stop  fishermen.   The trails  are narrow  and                                                                  
 there are  private lands  intermingled with  State lands  and                                                                  
 that many  people come  armed, which  can lead  to dangerous                                                                   
 situations.   There are  no  Village Public  Safety  Officers                                                                  
 (VPSO) on  duty.  Senator  Lincoln voiced  appreciation  that                                                                  
 the sponsor had attempted  to work out a situation,  however,                                                                  
 the gates are to be opened on June 9th.  There needs  to be a                                                                  
 way to  work with  Chitina to  accommodate them  during  this                                                                  
 period.  There  is no  way that  they can get  the fences  up                                                                  
 this year.    She noted  that the  fishery  ends the  end  of                                                                  
 Mr. Hart  advised  that  the majority  of  the  people  start                                                                  
 showing up around the 4th  of July weekend.  Senator  Lincoln                                                                  
 reiterated  that  this   is  a  volatile   situation.     She                                                                  
 recommended calling the fee  a "user fee or costs related  to                                                                  
 the impacts on  the community".   She implored the Committee                                                                   
 members help to get the village through this season  and then                                                                  
 they could work something out for next year.                                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE CARL MORGAN  spoke to concerns with the  other                                                                  
 side of the  river and  how the private  lands are affected.                                                                   
 Co-Chair Williams  interjected that  the only  way to  manage                                                                  
 the problem would  be in working with  the public to  address                                                                  
 these problems.  He recommended hiring someone to police  the                                                                  
 areas, pointing out  that the bill goes  into effect on  July                                                                  
 1.   Representative  Coghill corrected that  the bill has  an                                                                  
 immediate effective date.                                                                                                      
 Senator Lincoln  reiterated that  the areas do  not have  the                                                                  
 time to prepare a plan and that hiring only one person  would                                                                  
 not be effective.  Representative  Coghill advised that  last                                                                  
 year, the  opponents  had prepared  the  same argument.    He                                                                  
 stressed that they currently are charging a trespass  fee for                                                                  
 public  lands.    He  reiterated  that  this  is  not  a  new                                                                  
 discussion.  He  acknowledged that there  are safety  hazards                                                                  
 associated with the river and that the State knows where  the                                                                  
 borders of the  State lands  and private lands  are and  that                                                                  
 the borders are now clearly delineated.                                                                                        
 Senator Lincoln acknowledged  that the village areas need  to                                                                  
 work on these concerns.   The Department  of Fish & Game  has                                                                  
 admitted that  they do not  have a  resolution with  Chitina.                                                                  
 She maintained that there is  no other place in the State  of                                                                  
 Alaska  where there  is  such  an  influx  of  fishers  going                                                                  
 through such a  narrow area.  She  foresaw problems if  these                                                                  
 issues are not equitably resolved.                                                                                             
 Co-Chair   Harris   asked    whether   the   Department    of                                                                  
 Transportation and Public Facilities  still plans to pay  the                                                                  
 Chitina Native Corporation for  any damages done to  property                                                                  
 as  a  result  of  the trespassing   even  without  the  fee.                                                                  
 Representative Lincoln  replied that had  not been confirmed                                                                   
 in writing.   She speculated  that the  Department would  not                                                                  
 reopen the  slide at Brian  Creek, which  would make  private                                                                  
 lands more congested with increased safety concerns.                                                                           
 Co-Chair Harris inquired if there was any other place  in the                                                                  
 State where a fee was charged for access.                                                                                      
 KELLY HEPLER, DIRECTOR,  DIVISION OF  SPORT FISH, DEPARTMENT                                                                   
 OF FISH AND GAME, explained that this is a unique situation.                                                                   
 Co-Chair Harris  asked if  there was  enough opportunity  for                                                                  
 people to cross  on public land to  avoid the private  lands.                                                                  
 Mr. Hepler replied  that approximately 60%  of the land  from                                                                  
 Chitina down to the southern  access was accessible.  One  of                                                                  
 the primary  spots  is around  Brian  Creek.   Regarding  the                                                                  
 right-of-way, many people access the areas with their  boats,                                                                  
 however,  there  continues  to be  a  lot  of  tension.    He                                                                  
 concurred with the  suggestion that  the Native corporations                                                                   
 create a parking area.                                                                                                         
 Co-Chair Harris  stated  that  he did  not  want to  see  the                                                                  
 private property owners have  their rights abused.  He  added                                                                  
 that he would like to see money placed in the State's  budget                                                                  
 to compensate for  the concern.   He asked  about the  fiscal                                                                  
 note.  Mr. Hepler replied  that some funds go for publishing                                                                   
 the permit  and bathroom  facility  use.   In response  to  a                                                                  
 question by Co-Chair Harris, Mr. Hepler explained that  $18 -                                                                  
 $25  dollars  goes  to  Chitina  and  the  other  funds   for                                                                  
 contractual work.                                                                                                              
 Co-Chair Harris  asked  whether the  Department of  Fish  and                                                                  
 Game would continue  to pay for waste  management if the  fee                                                                  
 was discontinued.  Mr.  Hepler responded that was a  decision                                                                  
 for the Department  of Administration,  noting that he  would                                                                  
 not like to lose  the $180 thousand  dollars from his  budget                                                                  
 for that purpose.   Co-Chair Harris  commented that he  would                                                                  
 look toward the Capital Budget to locate funding for  Chitina                                                                  
 to help resolve these issues.                                                                                                  
 Representative Stoltze asked for clarification regarding  the                                                                  
 charge on the Kenai River.   Mr. Hepler explained that  would                                                                  
 be a charge  for parking.  Representative  Stoltze asked  the                                                                  
 Department's position  on  that fee.   Mr.  Hepler commented                                                                   
 that the issue  was complex and that  the Department has  not                                                                  
 yet taken a position.                                                                                                          
 Representative  Chenault  asked   if  there  were  any   fees                                                                  
 collected or  paid in  Kenai for  dip netting  fishing.   Mr.                                                                  
 Hepler responded that in the past, monies had been spent  for                                                                  
 trash  receptacles.    He   added  that  the  Department   of                                                                  
 Transportation and  Public  Facilities  spent time  in  trash                                                                  
 disposal,  noting  that  with  the  large  number  of  people                                                                  
 involved, they were not  able to provide the necessary  level                                                                  
 of service.                                                                                                                    
 Representative Chenault raised  the concern that there is  an                                                                  
 inequity of  provided services  and that  cities incur  costs                                                                  
 due to  the  location  of those  fishing  areas,  whether  in                                                                  
 Chitina or in  Kenai.  He  proposed that the  cost should  be                                                                  
 State related  rather than  a city expense.   Representative                                                                   
 Chenault cited his  experience while  representing the  Kenai                                                                  
 borough area.                                                                                                                  
 Co-Chair Harris  asked if the  city of Kenai  spent money  to                                                                  
 alleviate a garbage  problem that they  believed should  have                                                                  
 been  a  State  responsibility.     Representative   Chenault                                                                  
 acknowledged  the problem  with  the  State  designating  the                                                                  
 fishing area and then taking little responsibility for  waste                                                                  
 management, parking  or  habitat concerns.   He  pointed  out                                                                  
 that a charge  for parking  had helped offset  some costs  in                                                                  
 his area.                                                                                                                      
 Senator Lincoln thanked the Committee for debating the  issue                                                                  
 at such length and for giving thought to the people  affected                                                                  
 by the bill.                                                                                                                   
 Co-Chair Harris  MOVED  to  report CS  HB  210 (RES)  out  of                                                                  
 Committee  with  individual  recommendations  and  with   the                                                                  
 accompanying fiscal note.                                                                                                      
 Representative Foster OBJECTED.                                                                                                
 A roll call vote was taken on the motion.                                                                                      
 IN FAVOR:      Hawker, Stolze, Whitaker, Chenault, Harris,                                                                     
 OPPOSED:       Foster, Meyer, Moses                                                                                            
 Representative Croft and Representative Joule were not                                                                         
 present for the vote.                                                                                                          
 The MOTION PASSED (6-3).                                                                                                       
 CS HB 210  (RES) was  reported out  of Committee  with a  "do                                                                  
 pass" recommendation  and  with  a  new fiscal  note  by  the                                                                  
 Department  of  Fish &  Game  and  a  zero  note  #1  by  the                                                                  
 Department of Natural Resources.                                                                                               

Document Name Date/Time Subjects