Legislature(2009 - 2010)BUTROVICH 205
04/08/2010 03:30 PM Senate RESOURCES
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 210-IZEMBEK STATE GAME REFUGE LAND EXCHANGE 4:02:25 PM CO-CHAIR MCGUIRE announced consideration of HB 210 [CSHB 210(RES) was before the committee]. REPRESENTATIVE EDGMON, sponsor of HB 210, said this bill deals with a much publicized effort to establish a 30-mile road between the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay. It authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make the transaction given that the actual land exchange with the federal government is of unequal values. Title 38 requires the DNR to authorize land transactions of that nature. Submerged and tidelands are involved as part of the overall transaction as well; so the department needs to be able to consummate that. With the passage of HB 210, he said, further work will need to be done at the federal level to complete the full authorization for the construction of the small part of the road that is missing. The Department of Interior would need to do an environmental impact study (EIS) and a public interest finding. He explained that the proposed route goes through about 10 miles of some bird migration and wilderness areas, which will have to be approved. He said the most harrowing 10 minute flight he's ever taken is from Cold Bay to King Cove. With the help of a hover craft in the last couple of years, transport between the two areas is easier, but it is very expensive and as well as cumbersome to keep the hover craft running. For the 750 residents at King Cove this is about accessing the fifth largest all-weather runway in the state that also happens to be straddled by both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. So, for them this is a life and safety issue. 4:08:12 PM CO-CHAIR MCGUIRE confirmed that she has been contacted by people from that area who are concerned, and she applauded his efforts to deal with this problem. CO-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI said he can understand the health and safety issue, but this land exchange is controversial because it is the first time it has been done on a national wildlife refuge. He asked what kind of community outreach and involvement process it had been through, and was it acceptable to all parties. REPRESENTATIVE EDGMON answered that the land transaction involves about 60,000 acres versus the 206 acres that comprise the very narrow one-lane transportation corridor that would complete the road; the US Fish and Wildlife Service threw in about 1,600 acres off of Kodiak Island for good measure. Converting the National Wildlife Refuge into wilderness areas has been going on since ANILKA was established in 1980, and it has been happening without any consultation at all with the community members, fishermen, the tribe or the city. So, the recent outreach effort has been unprecedented. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked if most of the organizations, particularly environmental, have accepted this as a fair compromise. REPRESENTATIVE EDGMON replied that the National Public Lands Bill that was passed in March of last year took a great deal of effort including that of the Alaska delegation. Certainly, there was opposition to it. But many sideboards were enacted around the construction of the road - a single-lane gravel road, steel cables on both sides, specified turnouts, and a road design that has to meet the EIS. Further sideboards are the state process and public interest finding. 4:12:04 PM STANLEY MACK, Mayor, Aleutian Seas Borough, Alaska, said he lives in Sand Point, but also lived in Cold Bay for years. He is a commercial fisherman and supported HB 210. It is the final step in a long legislative process authorizing a trade of state and King Cove Corporation land to the federal government in exchange for approving a small road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road corridor will allow for a one-lane gravel road so the residents of King Cover will finally have a safe and dependable access to Cold Bay Airport. Not all of the transportation challenges can be resolved, but King Cove's problem is different because it can be solved. He couldn't express how happy he is to think that this is going to happen in his lifetime. It represents a successful partnership between state and local government to achieve. 4:16:25 PM HENRY MACK, Mayor, King Cove, Alaska, said he supported CSHB 210(RES). He said he had lived most of his life in King Cove and was a commercial fisherman for 40-plus years. This road has long been in the making since 1976 when they first adopted a resolution identifying the need. King Cove's small plane airport is unusable 30 to 40 percent of the time due to high winds. This will resolve the problem for many people whose lives are impacted by the lack of reliable access to the Cold Bay Airport. 4:19:56 PM DICK MYLIUS, Director, Division of Mining, Land and Water, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said under AS 38.50 his division is responsible for conducting land exchanges involving state land and they support this legislation. It is before them for two reasons. The first one is that AS 38.50.020 requires legislative approval of land exchanges for other than equal appraised fair market values and secondly, one of the provisions of this exchange is that certain state tide and submerged lands would be added to the Izembek State Game Refuge. He said a road from King Cove to Cold Bay has been talked about for many years and DNR's original Bristol Bay area plan adopted 25 years ago identified the need for this corridor. Regional transportation prepared by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOTPF) has also identified this need. Several years ago the Aleutian Seas Borough, City of King Cove, King Cove Village Corporation, Governor's Office and DNR agreed to revive the discussions about a land exchange to enable construction of the road and it was largely because borough leaders had found that the hover craft was not providing a safe economical long-term solution to King Cove's access needs. So, the state, the borough, the city and corporation met with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop the land exchange that is before them now. MR. MYLIUS said the parties all recognize that the biggest hurdle for such a land exchange would be securing approval of the Congress, because it involves federal wilderness refuge lands. The exchange legislation was introduced by Lisa Murkowski and Representative Young in 2007; Governor Palin wrote letters in support, the state testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources and the land exchange which was originally a separate piece of legislation was wrapped into the Omnibus lands bill that was considered late in 2008, and passed in 2009 and signed into law by President Obama in March. In putting together the exchange, he said it was clear that due to concerns over the unique wildlife and wilderness values of the refuge that a simple fair market value would not adequately address the public's and Congress' concerns for those values. So, it was determine at the start that the package would require state legislative approval. Statute already requires legislative approval for exchanges for other than an equal appraised fair market value. The existing values of most of these parcels of land are wilderness and wildlife values which are difficult to quantify in a land appraisal, and similarly with health and safety concerns of the local residents, the primary reason for the road. Acreage-wise the exchange is clearly skewed in favor of the US Fish and wildlife Service. The state will acquire approximately 206 acres in the road corridor and about 1,600 acres on Sitkinak Island; US Fish and Wildlife Service will acquire 43,000 acres of state land that will be added to the National Wildlife Refuge, 2,500 acres of Native corporation land and another 5,430 acres of Native corporation selections that will be relinquished. In addition, the King Cove Native Corporation has agreed that it will sell additional land to the US Fish and Wildlife Service at fair market value should the service desire to purchase that land. In addition to the road corridor, the state will acquire a 1,600 acre parcel on Sitkinak Island which is located south of Kodiak Island; the remainder of that island is already state or borough land used for grazing. The 1,600-acre parcel is a former Coast Guard facility. The value of the two townships the state would trade to the US Fish and Wildlife Service primary is primarily wildlife habitat for fish, caribou and brown bear. These lands drain the western side of Pavlov Volcano and have been offered for oil and gas leasing in previous state lease sales but have received no bids. State geologists say that the likely oil and gas resources lie further north or offshore of these parcels. 4:24:44 PM MR. MYLIUS said the second provision requires approval by the legislature for adding 3,000 acres of state tide and submerged lands in Kinzarof Lagoon, at the head of Cold Bay, to the state game refuge. These lands have resource values similar to Izembek Lagoon including valuable eel grass beds, which are critical for water fowl that migrate through or reside in the area. He said the department and the governor support this legislation. SENATOR FRENCH moved to adopt the proposed Senate committee substitute (SCS) to CSHB 210, labeled 26-LS0788, Version E, as the working document of the committee. There being no objection, the motion carried and SCS CSHB 210() was before the committee. TIM CLARK, staff to Representative Edgmon, explained the differences. He said the SCS is comprised of three lines on page 5, line 27, that say: "The construction and operation of the road described in (b)(1) of this section is authorized after the state receives the land described in (b)(1) of this section in accordance with PL11-11(Ombibus Public Land Management Act of 2009)." The reason for this minor addition was to make it clear that construction and use of the road is allowed if the exchange is authorized. It is similar to access provisions in existing state law affecting other state game refuges including the Mendenhall Wet Lands State Game Refuge and the Goose Bay State Game Refuge. What might not be immediately clear is that the Izembek National Refuge is actually super-imposed over a state game refuge, so while the corridor becomes state land, it also becomes arguably state game refuge land. This being similar to other provisions for access in state game refuges they thought it seemed prudent to add it to the bill. 4:28:30 PM MR. CLARK said it is rather complex for a seven-page bill, mainly because this bill answers the three mechanisms in the federal legislation that can render the exchange null and void: a finding by the Secretary of the Interior that the exchange is not in the public interest, a voluntary rendering of null and void by the state or the Native Corporation made before construction of the road commenced, and if permitting of the road was not accomplished within seven years of the federal act's passage. The clock began in March 2009 when the President signed the legislation. The challenging structure is if for any reason the exchange is voided, there is no need to revisit statute to ensure that all involved lands are returned to their original status. But if that is not the case, the legislature is saved the trouble of having to convene to dismantle any of the transactions. CO-CHAIR MCGUIRE, finding no further comments, closed public testimony and set the bill aside. 4:31:54 PM At ease from 4:31-4:33.