Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/15/2004 01:07 PM House RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 27-SUBMERGED LAND TITLE DISPUTES                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR MASEK announced  that the final order  of business would                                                               
be SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO.  27, Relating to the resolution of                                                               
submerged land title disputes.                                                                                                  
Number 1589                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  RALPH   SEEKINS,  Alaska  State   Legislature,  sponsor,                                                               
explained that  SJR 27 relates  to resolving  land-title disputes                                                               
between the  state and  the federal  government.   He paraphrased                                                               
from  the sponsor  statement,  which  read [original  punctuation                                                               
provided but some formatting changed]:                                                                                          
     Alaska  holds   over  20,000   rivers  and   more  than                                                                    
     1,000,000 lakes considered  to be potentially navigable                                                                    
     waterways.  This amounts to  nearly 60,000,000 acres of                                                                    
     submerged lands.   Title to  all submerged land  was to                                                                    
     be transferred  to Alaska  from the  federal government                                                                    
     at statehood.   It's  important to  note that  up until                                                                    
     statehood this  land was held  in trust for  the future                                                                    
     state by  the federal  government.   Now, more  than 45                                                                    
     years  after  Alaska  became  a  sovereign  state,  the                                                                    
     federal government  has yet to transfer  title to these                                                                    
     promised lands.                                                                                                            
     SJR 27 does three things:                                                                                                  
     1.   It encourages  the Secretary  of the  Interior and                                                                    
     the  Alaska  congressional  delegation to  support  and                                                                    
     endorse the  continuation of the process  for recording                                                                    
     federal disclaimers  of interest for quieting  title to                                                                    
     submerged lands;                                                                                                           
     2.  It requests  the Alaska congressional delegation to                                                                    
     introduce legislation  in the  Congress to  provide for                                                                    
     federal  participation   in  the  proposed   state  and                                                                    
     federal Navigable Waters Commission for Alaska; and                                                                        
     3.  It requests the  introduction of legislation in the                                                                    
     Congress  to  amend  the  Quiet  Title  Act  to  ensure                                                                    
     federal cooperation  in resolving submerged  land title                                                                    
     The  dilemma is  clearly  illustrated in  the U.S.  9th                                                                    
     Circuit Court  of Appeals case Alaska  v. USA (decision                                                                    
     filed  on  January 28,  2000).    Circuit Judge  Andrew                                                                    
     Kleinfeld authored  the opinion of the  court excerpted                                                                    
     as follows:                                                                                                                
     It is undisputed that when  the Union was created, each                                                                    
     of the  thirteen original states retained  title to the                                                                    
     lands covered  by navigable waters, and  that under the                                                                    
     "equal footing  doctrine" each new state  succeeds upon                                                                    
     statehood to the federal interest  in these lands.  The                                                                    
     Submerged Lands  Act gave Alaska  title to the  beds of                                                                    
     navigable rivers on January 3, 1959.                                                                                       
     Under [the Quiet Title Act]  ... the federal government                                                                    
     takes the position that  its sovereign immunity shields                                                                    
     it from  the state  government's claim [to  clear title                                                                    
     to  submerged  lands]   until  the  federal  government                                                                    
     itself makes  a claim.   Because Alaska is  very large,                                                                    
     much  of it  is wilderness,  and there  are innumerable                                                                    
     waters,  the federal  government has  not had  time yet                                                                    
     (45 years) to determine what  claims it wishes to make.                                                                    
     Therefore,  the state  government must  wait until  the                                                                    
     federal  government makes  a claim,  if  it ever  does,                                                                    
     before settling whether it has title.                                                                                      
     In  a  nutshell,  the  federal  government's  preferred                                                                    
     method for reconciling these disputes  appears to be to                                                                    
     wait  the state  out.   When (if  ever) the  government                                                                    
     decides to  make a claim against  state ownership, only                                                                    
     then  does Alaska  have an  opportunity to  protect its                                                                    
     ownership interest.   This is accomplished  by filing a                                                                    
     quiet title suit against the  federal government - just                                                                    
     as  it did  in the  case  cited above  relating to  the                                                                    
     Nation, Kandik and Black Rivers.                                                                                           
     The bottom line?   That which should  be indisputable -                                                                    
     that Alaska holds  title to its submerged  lands - has,                                                                    
     in  fact, been  effectively disputed  as a  function of                                                                    
     the  federal  government's   foot  dragging.    Without                                                                    
     doubt,  the existing  processes of  resolving submerged                                                                    
     lands title  disputes are inadequate  and exceptionally                                                                    
     slow.  SJR 27 seeks  resolution to this extraordinarily                                                                    
     unfair dilemma.                                                                                                            
Number 1848                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG asked whether  there was any indication                                                               
from the federal  government that it would [act  to resolve these                                                               
SENATOR SEEKINS said no.                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG  asked if that  could be done  with the                                                               
commission or would have to be done with legislation.                                                                           
SENATOR  SEEKINS said  he believes  the commission  is needed  to                                                               
help  analyze  the  situation  between   the  federal  and  state                                                               
governments  and   the  cooperation   that  could   be  extended.                                                               
However,  the [state]  is asking  for some  changes to  the Quiet                                                               
Title  Act  because, based  on  the  opinion written  by  Justice                                                               
Kleinfeld, the [federal]  government can hold its  claim until it                                                               
wants to  assert it.   He said this  is basically unfair  and the                                                               
thought is  that, as a  sovereign state, [Alaska] should  be able                                                               
to go  around that; thus [the  state] is asking for  some changes                                                               
in the legislation as well as the commission.                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH  said he  applauds this  legislation and                                                               
hopes to see more like it.                                                                                                      
CO-CHAIR MASEK noted  that there was a hearing with  DNR in which                                                               
Senator Gene  Therriault was present; discussed  were land issues                                                               
and land  swaps that dealt  with Native corporations,  the state,                                                               
and  the federal  government.    She said  she  thought this  was                                                               
timely and important to go forward with.                                                                                        
Number 1987                                                                                                                     
CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM moved  to report SJR 27 out  of committee with                                                               
individual  recommendations and  the  accompanying fiscal  notes.                                                               
There  being no  objection, SJR  27 was  reported from  the House                                                               
Resources Standing Committee.                                                                                                   

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