Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/30/2004 08:43 AM House FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE BILL NO. 305                                                                                                           
     An Act relating to state ownership of submerged land                                                                       
     underlying water that was navigable at the time Alaska                                                                     
     achieved statehood.                                                                                                        
Vice-Chair  Meyer  MOVED  to   ADOPT  Work  Draft  #23-LS1489                                                                   
Version  Q,  Bullock,  dated   4/13/04,  as  the  version  of                                                                   
legislation before the Committee.   There being NO OBJECTION,                                                                   
it was so ordered.                                                                                                              
JOE BALASH, STAFF TO SENATOR GENE  THERRIAULT, explained that                                                                   
the  Federal Government  granted  all submerged  lands  under                                                                   
navigable  waters  to the  State  of Alaska  at  the time  of                                                                   
statehood, a  nearly 60 million-acre entitlement.  Since that                                                                   
time  it has  been  difficult  to  win concessions  from  the                                                                   
Federal Government  on which waters  are navigable  and which                                                                   
are not.  In the years  since statehood,  Alaska has  gone to                                                                   
court to win  determinations on 20 water bodies.  Those court                                                                   
decisions refined the criteria  by which the determination of                                                                   
navigability  is  made.  This   legislation  stakes  out  the                                                                   
State's claim to those water bodies fitting the criteria.                                                                       
Mr. Balash  pointed out the language  on page 3, line  8 that                                                                   
directs  the  Commissioner  of   the  Department  of  Natural                                                                   
Resources (DNR)  to make  determinations of navigability,  to                                                                   
compile a list, and to map the  water bodies. It also directs                                                                   
the  DNR to  give notice  to the  Bureau  of Land  Management                                                                   
(BLM) of the State asserting the claim and staking it.                                                                          
Mr. Balash explained that Senator  Therriault pledged to work                                                                   
with  the  Native  regional  corporations.   Navigable  water                                                                   
bodies over  submerged lands  belong to  the State.  When the                                                                   
BLM  used incorrect  criteria  and  conveyed  acreage to  the                                                                   
Native  corporations,  the  BLM  conveyed lands  that  it  no                                                                   
longer  possessed because  Alaska received  the lands  at the                                                                   
time of  statehood. As  a result,  corporations were  charged                                                                   
for acreage they  did not receive. The bill  sponsor had been                                                                   
working  primarily through  SEALASKA  Corporation to  address                                                                   
the shared concerns.                                                                                                            
Mr. Balash  pointed out  that the added  language on  page 3,                                                                   
lines 26-30, contains  a disclaimer that the  list and action                                                                   
does not  create an interest  in or right  of entry  onto any                                                                   
real property that does not otherwise  exist under State law,                                                                   
that it may not be recorded and  it does not constitute final                                                                   
agency action.  He explained that  the language was  added so                                                                   
that determinations would not  be contested within 30 days of                                                                   
the action  by the  Commissioner. In  Section 3, the  sponsor                                                                   
reworked  the  language of  the  notice  so that  it  doesn't                                                                   
appear adversarial,  and would allow the  Native corporations                                                                   
to take  the list to the  BLM and rectify issues  relating to                                                                   
the prior conveyance of lands.                                                                                                  
Representative Joule  commented that a  lot of good  work was                                                                   
put into the bill.                                                                                                              
Representative Hawker  asked if these added  sections resolve                                                                   
the Native  corporations' concerns.  Mr. Balash thought  that                                                                   
they did.                                                                                                                       
JON  TILLINGHAST,  CORPORATE COUNSEL,  SEALASKA  CORPORATION,                                                                   
explained  that  Sealaska  Corporation  worked  closely  with                                                                   
Senator Therriault's office and  other native corporations in                                                                   
a  collaborative effort  to sort  out  ownership problems  on                                                                   
waterways  throughout the state.  Sealaska Corporation  feels                                                                   
that  the  current  version  addresses  their  concerns,  and                                                                   
supports the bill.                                                                                                              
In  response  to  a question  by  Representative  Joule,  Mr.                                                                   
Tillinghast  said   that  Sealaska  Corporation   coordinated                                                                   
closely  with  other  regional corporations  to  ensure  that                                                                   
their interests were accommodated.                                                                                              
MRYL  THOMPSON, REPRESENTING  SELF,  explained that  he is  a                                                                   
property owner of land extending  into a navigable river.  He                                                                   
thought  that this  version of  the  bill is  better, but  he                                                                   
worried about  its consequences. He discussed  the problem of                                                                   
a river running  through his private property,  comprising as                                                                   
much as 2 acres  that he's being taxed on. He  said that once                                                                   
the bill  becomes law,  he would contest  the amount  of land                                                                   
that the  borough  assesses him  for taxes.  He would not  be                                                                   
compensated for  his loss of 2  acres of river to  the State.                                                                   
He also pointed out that the lower  assessment would cost the                                                                   
borough  money. He  foresaw the  same  problem affecting  the                                                                   
Native corporations, and commented  on the lengthy process of                                                                   
getting land from the Federal Government.                                                                                       
Mr. Balash thought that Mr. Thompson's  situation illustrates                                                                   
why  the legislation  is needed.  If  the Federal  Government                                                                   
sold  the submerged  land  prior to  statehood,  the land  is                                                                   
exempted from  this situation.  The bill  does not  take land                                                                   
from anyone.  If the land  was conveyed  to the State  at the                                                                   
time of  statehood, it belongs  to the State and  could never                                                                   
have been  given or sold to  anyone unless the  State granted                                                                   
it. He said  that concerns over property tax  assessments and                                                                   
valuations   should  be   raised   with   the  local   taxing                                                                   
Representative Foster MOVED to  report HCS SB 305(FIN) out of                                                                   
Committee   with    individual   recommendations    and   the                                                                   
accompanying fiscal  note. There  being NO OBJECTION,  it was                                                                   
so ordered.                                                                                                                     
HCS SB  305(FIN) was  REPORTED  out of Committee  with  a "do                                                                   
pass"  recommendation  and one  previously  published  fiscal                                                                   
impact note.                                                                                                                    
TAPE HFC 04 - 103, Side B                                                                                                     

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