Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/30/2004 03:35 PM Senate STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
         SJR 25-FLOODING AND EROSION CONTROL ASSISTANCE                                                                     
CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SJR 25 to be up for consideration.                                                                 
HAVEN HARRIS,  staff to  Senator Donny  Olson, sponsor,  read the                                                               
following into the record:                                                                                                      
     SJR  25 is  a resolution  requesting the  Army Corp  of                                                                    
     Engineers  ease their  cost  and  benefit analysis  for                                                                    
     projects in rural Alaska.                                                                                                  
     Senator Olson has proposed  this resolution in response                                                                    
     to  many  concerns  voiced  by  his  constituents  with                                                                    
     regards  to  the  erosion and  flooding  problems  that                                                                    
     plague western  Alaska. Currently many of  the villages                                                                    
     in  western Alaska  are  not  receiving the  assistance                                                                    
     needed for the protection of life and property.                                                                            
     On November 8, 2003 a  winter storm hit western Alaska.                                                                    
     This  storm caused  considerable damage  to Unalakleet,                                                                    
     Shishmaref,  and  some  of  Nome's  surrounding  areas.                                                                    
     While  the governor  has declared  a state  of disaster                                                                    
     because  of  this  storm,   the  continued  effects  of                                                                    
     erosion on the  villages of Alaska are not  going to be                                                                    
     solved  by  emergency  disaster  declarations.  A  more                                                                    
     comprehensive,  coordinated effort  is required  by the                                                                    
     Army  Corps of  Engineers and  other federal  and state                                                                    
     Our  Senator's office  respectfully urges  your support                                                                    
     for this resolution to focus  attention on this serious                                                                    
SENATOR   JOHN  COWDERY   asked  him   to  elaborate   on  easing                                                               
MR.  HARRIS explained  that the  Army Corps  of Engineers  uses a                                                               
cost benefit analysis  that looks for a monetary  gain or savings                                                               
before any project can go  forward. Unfortunately, there won't be                                                               
a savings  from any of the  projects in these villages.  But this                                                               
problem isn't unique to this area;  it's the situation in much of                                                               
rural Alaska  because the communities are  so small. Nonetheless,                                                               
even  though   there  is  no   monetary  gain,   maintaining  the                                                               
resident's  homes  in these  villages  should  outweigh the  cost                                                               
benefit analysis, he said.                                                                                                      
SENATOR COWDERY asked whether the  Denali Commission is doing the                                                               
same sort of thing.                                                                                                             
MR. HARRIS  told him this wasn't  within the scope of  the Denali                                                               
Commission.  Referring to  the  General  Accounting Office  (GAO)                                                               
report  on  Alaska Native  villages,  he  noted that  the  Denali                                                               
Commission was  specifically identified  as a possible  entity to                                                               
alleviate  this problem.  However, that  isn't the  case at  this                                                               
SENATOR COWDERY  read the Denali Commission  policy or objectives                                                               
     The commission is committed  to accelerate the building                                                                    
     of sustainable  infrastructure in  rural Alaska  and to                                                                    
     enhance the  health and safety  of rural  residents and                                                                    
     provide economic opportunity.                                                                                              
The Denali  Commission should be  doing what is  being requested,                                                               
he said.                                                                                                                        
MR.  HARRIS replied  they would  very much  like for  them to  be                                                               
pushing  in that  direction,  but that's  not  what is  happening                                                               
right now.  Currently they  are focused on  making bulk  fuel and                                                               
energy  reserves more  affordable  and to  date  have assisted  a                                                               
number of  rural communities with  building hospitals  and health                                                               
SENATOR  COWDERY  suggested  that   Senator  Olson  lean  on  the                                                               
commission for assistance.                                                                                                      
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  commented that  he didn't  believe that  the                                                               
Bering Sea is a part of the Arctic  Ocean, but it might be a part                                                               
of the Pacific Ocean.                                                                                                           
MR. HARRIS replied  that he grew up in Nome  and was always under                                                               
the  impression that  the  Bering  Sea was  an  extension of  the                                                               
Pacific Ocean.  He has  always understood  that the  Chukchi Sea,                                                               
which is just to the north  of Kotzebue Sound, is an extension of                                                               
the Arctic Ocean.                                                                                                               
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  asked if they believe that  by including both                                                               
the Pacific and  Arctic Oceans in the resolution  that the entire                                                               
coast of Alaska would be encompassed.                                                                                           
MR. HARRIS told him that was the intent.                                                                                        
SENATOR BERT STEDMAN agreed with  Senator Cowdery that the Denali                                                               
Commission should be encouraged to become involved.                                                                             
MR.  HARRIS  said the  Bush  Caucus  has  made contact  with  the                                                               
commission   and  specifically   asked   about   their  view   on                                                               
Shishmaref.  With  SJR  25,  the  effort  is  to  lend  immediate                                                               
protection  to these  villages in  their  current location.  Many                                                               
villages  in  rural  Alaska  are  facing  erosion  problems  that                                                               
require long  term solutions,  but this  is to  address immediate                                                               
ROBERT VALDATA  from Seward wanted to  put it on record  that the                                                               
Kenai  Peninsula  and  Seward has  an  authorized  flood  control                                                               
district and he was concerned about that area.                                                                                  
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS  told  him  the  GAO  study  identified  184                                                               
communities  throughout  Alaska  that have  potential  flood  and                                                               
erosion problems.                                                                                                               
SENATOR GUESS suggested that the  "Be It Resolved" portion of the                                                               
resolution  included  all  communities  in  the  state  that  are                                                               
dealing with  erosion and  flooding and  are looking  for federal                                                               
CHAIR GARY STEVENS agreed.                                                                                                      
JULIANNE BALTAR,  Kawerak Incorporated representative,  from Nome                                                               
spoke in support  of SJR 25. She explained that  her company is a                                                               
Native  non-profit consortium  in  western Alaska  that has  been                                                               
providing  assistance to  Shishmaref  on  erosion and  relocation                                                               
She told members  that Kawerak takes issue with  the cost benefit                                                               
analysis requirement and they find  the Corps of Engineers' cost-                                                               
sharing  requirement particularly  unreasonable. Currently  there                                                               
is a  request to do  a Section 14 emergency  shoreline protection                                                               
project  in front  of the  school  in Shishmaref.  The funds  are                                                               
limited  to  $1 million  for  federal  share,  but require  a  35                                                               
percent cost share from the  local community. If the community is                                                               
unable  to produce  the money  they won't  be able  to build  the                                                               
project.  The Corps  is now  asking for  $400,000 to  $420,000 to                                                               
build about  220 feet of  seawall. If  the wall isn't  built, the                                                               
school  property is  in imminent  danger. Right  now the  teacher                                                               
housing is  between 12 and  14 feet  from the eroding  sand bank.                                                               
Currently the ground is frozen and  that's the only thing that is                                                               
slowing the erosion.                                                                                                            
Another concern is that the Section  14 Corps program is only for                                                               
public  land.  Even  if  the  school  property  were  saved,  the                                                               
properties on either side would  be offered no help because there                                                               
is no funding for them.                                                                                                         
In working in Shishmaref, they  have found that no single federal                                                               
agency is tasked  to address erosion and flood  problems in rural                                                               
Alaska, which is  why they support combining  agency resources to                                                               
address these problems. The Denali  Commission is a large player,                                                               
but they aren't  currently funded to handle  erosion and flooding                                                               
problems. She suggested that  Federal Emergency Management Agency                                                               
(FEMA) is also adept at handling such situations.                                                                               
She reiterated her support of SJR 25.                                                                                           
SENATOR GUESS  made a motion to  move SJR 25 from  committee with                                                               
individual recommendations  and attached zero fiscal  note. There                                                               
being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                          

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