Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/22/2004 09:03 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 31(RES)                                                                                             
     "An Act relating to  a transportation corridor for extension of                                                            
     the Alaska  Railroad to Canada  and to extension of  the Alaska                                                            
     Railroad  to connect with the North American  railroad system."                                                            
This  was the third  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair  Wilken stated  this bill,  sponsored  by Senator  Cowdery,                                                            
"authorizes  [the]  Alaska  Railroad   Corporation  to  delineate  a                                                            
transportation  and utility corridor from Eielson  Air Force Base to                                                            
the Alaska-Canada border."                                                                                                      
RICHARD, SCHMITZ,  Staff to Senator John Cowdery,  testified that no                                                            
changes have  been proposed to this  legislation since the  previous                                                            
hearing.  He  stressed  the  importance  that it  passes  into  law,                                                            
expounding on the support  and importance to establish a corridor to                                                            
extend  the railroad  into Canada.  He reminded  of the significant                                                             
discussion  held in the  Senate Resources  Committee and efforts  to                                                            
resolve  certain  issues.  He  noted  that  the  provisions  of  the                                                            
legislation  would not be  immediately implemented,  as other  steps                                                            
must be first taken.                                                                                                            
Co-Chair Wilken  asked if the Alaska  Railroad Corporation  supports                                                            
this legislation.                                                                                                               
WENDY  LINDSKOOG,  Director  of External  Affairs,  Alaska  Railroad                                                            
Corporation,  Department  of  Community  and  Economic Development,                                                             
Senator Hoffman clarified that the Railroad supports the bill.                                                                  
JEANNETTE  JAMES,  former Alaska  State  legislator,  testified  via                                                            
teleconference  from  an  offnet  location  in her  position  as  an                                                            
advisor  to the  Murkowski  Administration  on railroad  issues,  in                                                            
support of the  bill. She stated that the legislation  has undergone                                                            
compromises and that it should be advanced.                                                                                     
Co-Chair  Wilken noted new  fiscal zero notes  being distributed  to                                                            
the Committee.                                                                                                                  
Senator   Bunde  understood   ownership  of   this  land  would   be                                                            
transferred to  the Railroad, which would maintain  complete control                                                            
of the  land and could  restrict access to  citizens. He  questioned                                                            
how this would have cost to the State.                                                                                          
Mr. Schmitz replied that  access to the land would not be restricted                                                            
until  track is  actually  laid. He  stated this  legislation  would                                                            
transfer  ownership of a  200-foot corridor  in locations where  the                                                            
railroad would  cross State-owned  land. He noted that the  Railroad                                                            
would  be  required  to  negotiate  right  of  ways  separately  for                                                            
federally-owned  land,   lands  owned  by Native   corporations  and                                                            
privately-owned lands.                                                                                                          
Senator  Bunde  contended that  the  200-foot  corridor,  therefore,                                                            
could not be  otherwise disposed of  by the State, which  would be a                                                            
financial loss.                                                                                                                 
Ms. James countered  that this argument "falls on  its face" because                                                            
the  land would  transfer  from one  State  entity to  another.  She                                                            
explained  that  if  the  railroad   were  not  constructed  on  the                                                            
property, ownership would transfer back to the State.                                                                           
Senator  Bunde  remarked   that  this  legislation  would   transfer                                                            
ownership  from a  State entity  to  a "quasi-private"  entity,  not                                                            
subject to administrative  and procedures statutes. He disputed this                                                            
transfer would not have a zero fiscal impact.                                                                                   
Ms. Lindskoog  detailed  that as  a compromise  a 200-foot  corridor                                                            
within a 500-foot corridor  would be transferred to the Railroad fee                                                            
simple. She  noted that  the Department of  Natural Resources  would                                                            
reserve oil  and gas mineral  rights and that  the State would  have                                                            
control over the  placement of railroad crossings.  She also pointed                                                            
out that the State  would have rights to utilize the  property for a                                                            
natural gas pipeline.  As a result of these differences,  she stated                                                            
the  proposed  land  would  be  unlike  traditional  Railroad-owned                                                             
Senator Bunde  informed that ownership  of subsurface rights  is not                                                            
transferred  to  any  landowner  and  he  therefore  maintained  his                                                            
Senator  Olson   asked  how  access   for  recreation  and   hunting                                                            
activities would be protected.                                                                                                  
Ms.  Lindskoog  reminded  that  people  are not  allowed  access  to                                                            
airport runway  tarmacs because of  safety issues. She replied  that                                                            
the Railroad  and the Department of  Natural Resources would  review                                                            
user needs  closely to determine where  crossings would be  located.                                                            
Senator Olson expressed  concern about complaints from hunters cited                                                            
with  trespassing  for  crossing   the  tracks  "in  the  middle  of                                                            
Ms. Lindskoog  asked if Senator Olson  suggests that hunters  should                                                            
have a right to access the right of way.                                                                                        
Senator  Olson  "expressed  discomfort"  that  hunters would  be  in                                                            
violation of trespassing laws.                                                                                                  
Senator  Dyson asked  if Railroad  rights  of way  have more  access                                                            
restrictions than a highway.                                                                                                    
Ms.  Lindskoog  surmised   they  do  not.  She  furthered  that  the                                                            
Department  of Natural  Resources  would retain  significantly  more                                                            
control over  these lands  than currently  exercised with the  route                                                            
between  Seward  and Fairbanks.  She  stated that  if  an area  were                                                            
commonly  used  for hunting,  it  would  likely  be assumed  that  a                                                            
crossing would be located at the site.                                                                                          
Senator  Dyson noted  the assumption  that people  hunting or  berry                                                            
picking would have the  wherewithal to move off the highway to avoid                                                            
a passing  truck. He opined  that designated  railroad crossings  in                                                            
remote areas would be impractical.                                                                                              
Ms. Lindskoog informed  that jaywalkers are not always ticketed. She                                                            
stressed that the trespass laws are intended for safety.                                                                        
Co-Chair Wilken characterized  crossing of the Railroad as potential                                                            
trespassing and pitching of a tent on the rails as trespassing.                                                                 
Mr.  Schmitz   outlined   possible  signage   to  alert  people   of                                                            
trespassing   laws  and   safety   concerns.  He   assumed  that   a                                                            
"commonsense  approach"  would be adopted.  He stated  that in  many                                                            
rural areas, warning signs  are all that is necessary, as opposed to                                                            
a commuter  train in an urban area  with would likely be  fenced off                                                            
Senator Bunde  knew of specific duck  hunters cited for trespassing                                                             
along the  Railroad. He  emphasized that  this legislation  does not                                                            
provide a "typical transfer"  of property and that if undertaken the                                                            
Railroad would receive  sole control over the land. He remarked that                                                            
if the decision  is to "give away  our natural resources"  this fact                                                            
must be understood fully.                                                                                                       
Senator Olson  asked what party would  retain the power of  imminent                                                            
Ms. Lindskoog replied that the Railroad would have this power.                                                                  
PHILLIS JOHNSON,  Attorney, Alaska  Railroad Corporation,  testified                                                            
via  teleconference  from an  offnet location,  to  affirm that  the                                                            
Railroad holds  the power of eminent  domain just as the  Department                                                            
of  Natural Resources  and  utility  corporations  do  for lands  it                                                            
administers.  However, she pointed  out that the Railroad  has never                                                            
exercised the power of  eminent domain. She noted that in some areas                                                            
of  the proposed  route  the entire  width of  the  corridor is  not                                                            
needed.  She stated  this was established  as a  compromise in  this                                                            
legislation and  that corridor width is commonly negotiated  in land                                                            
transfers as a "last resort".                                                                                                   
Ms.  Johnson  also  commented  that as  a  lawyer  representing  the                                                            
interest  of  the  Railroad,  she is  always  mindful  of  potential                                                            
litigation  relating to trespassing  issues.  She stressed  that the                                                            
transfer of  title is important to  the State, whether the  Railroad                                                            
obtains fee simple  title or "other mechanism" to  utilize the land,                                                            
such  as  a  permit  from  the  Department  of  Natural   Resources.                                                            
Regardless,  she  stressed, safety  concerns  would  remain and  the                                                            
issue of "tunneling" people must be addressed.                                                                                  
Senator Dyson strongly  supported this bill and suggested the safety                                                            
issues could be  addressed "in another forum". He  viewed land owned                                                            
by the Railroad  to be held  in trust for  the people of Alaska  and                                                            
that access  should not be limited.  He was offended with  "what the                                                            
Railroad  has done in  Whittier" indicating  the extensive  barriers                                                            
erected to  prevent trespassing.  He stressed  that common  sense is                                                            
expected when near railroad  tracks and opined that most persons hit                                                            
by a  train likely  "deserve  it." He  expressed  that the  Railroad                                                            
should  hold the land  proposed in  this legislation,  not only  for                                                            
Railroad purposes, but also for Alaskans in general.                                                                            
Co-Chair Green stated that  although she agreed with Senator Dyson's                                                            
comments  about railroad  crossings, major  liability issues  exist.                                                            
She spoke of "major issues"  with access to Railroad property in the                                                            
Mat-Su.  She spoke  of  attempts to  change  casual use  at a  "non-                                                            
official"  crossing an established  crossing  through repeated  use.                                                            
She  stated that  the Railroad  insists  upon involvement  in  these                                                            
decisions.  She remarked that any  land transferred to the  Railroad                                                            
with the expectation that  the land would be used for the benefit of                                                            
the public would not occur.  Rather, this land would be utilized for                                                            
the Railroad's purpose  and to generate profit for the Railroad. She                                                            
was unsure  how a dividend  program could  be established to  ensure                                                            
benefit  for all  Alaskans,  or of  a method  to promise  access  to                                                            
Senator Dyson  offered a  motion to report  the bill from  Committee                                                            
with individual recommendations and new fiscal notes.                                                                           
Senator Bunde  objected. He  remarked that  the zero amounts  of the                                                            
fiscal notes  are disingenuous. He  expounded that this legislation                                                             
involves  the  transfer  of  State assets  and  suggested  that  the                                                            
legislature is "sometimes…too flexible."                                                                                        
A roll call was taken on the motion.                                                                                            
IN  FAVOR:  Senator B.  Stevens,  Senator  Dyson,  Senator  Hoffman,                                                            
Senator Olson, Co-Chair Green and Co-Chair Wilken                                                                               
OPPOSED: Senator Bunde                                                                                                          
The motion PASSED (6-1)                                                                                                         
CS SB 31  (RES) MOVED from  Committee with  three zero fiscal  notes                                                            
from  the  Department  of  Natural  Resources,  dated  1/23/04,  the                                                            
Department of  Transportation and Public Facilities,  dated 1/28/04,                                                            
and the  Department of  Community and Economic  Development,  Alaska                                                            
Railroad Corporation, dated 4/22/04.                                                                                            

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