Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/08/2003 02:16 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 210 An Act relating to the Chitina dip net fishery; and providing for an effective date. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN COGHILL advised that HB 210 would eliminate the $25 dollar fee for a Chitina Dip netting permit. In 2000, the Legislature imposed the increased fee to guarantee access to the fishery by utilizing $18 dollar per permit to pay AHTNA and Chitina Corporations a trespassing fee for river access across their land. Legislation promoted by Senator Pete Kelly provided funding to undertake a survey in 2001. There was a specific $100,000 dollar appropriation for survey and signs. The Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOTPF) was able to obtain the person who had done the majority of surveying for native allotments using aerial photography. There is approximately $54,000 dollars remaining for the brochure design and printing costs. DOTPF indicated that enough remains and would include two information signs placed at the Pavilion and O'Brien. Representative Coghill pointed out that the results of the survey indicate that the vast majority of access to the river is public land, thus, there should be no reason for people to trespass on private lands to access the Chitina fisheries. One key facet of the legislation is to make sure the public access is adequately marked in order to protect private property owners from trespassing. Last year Gordy Williams, legislative liaison, testified that the Chitina dip net fishery is the largest in the State and in 2001, the Department of Fish and Game issued over 8,000 household permits. The elimination of the fee is a policy call, stipulating that Chitina is the only fishery in the State that has been singled out to pay a maintenance fee. Representative Coghill maintained that Chitina should be handled in the same manner as all other fisheries. JOE HART, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), GENERAL MANAGER, CHITINA NATIVE CORPORATION, GLENNALLEN, submitted comments on the proposed legislation. He emphasized the following points and addressed the impacts that the dip netters have and the pressures placed on private property. He commented that those concerns seem to be overlooked. · Cutting of trees · Building of new trails · Fire rings and fires · Left behind trash at campsites · Parking and camping · Shooting · Fish remains from cleaning Mr. Hart listed the pressures on the community and services: · Dumping of trash prior to leaving Chitina in available dumpsters · Stress placed on very limited emergency medical services · Additional and heavy traffic, speeding and damage to roads · Increased use of laundry facilities and public water wells · Increased potential for forest fires requiring additional monitoring by Chitina's volunteer fire department · Increased numbers of visitors for law enforcement to deal with and monitor Mr. Hart clarified that this is an access issue, regardless of the fisheries classification and that the dip netters will be accessing the Copper River across private property. Comments have indicated that the fee structure should be determined based upon classification. The access is the same regardless of the classification and should not be a factor in establishment of the fee. Access is access, and that is what the fee is used for. The requirement of a sport license should not impact the amount of the fee. With the landslide south of O'Brien Creek closing the road, the dip netters will be impacting private properties because the right-of-way is closed at the slide. That creates a very unsafe situation similar to what happened on the Denali Highway several years ago. The State of Alaska closed the highway, yet a car was allowed to travel the highway and the passengers got stuck and froze. Such circumstance places the State in a bad legal situation. That ground is unstable and not scheduled to be repaired due to the large costs. Mr. Hart continued, between 8,000 and 10,000 people descend on the town with a population of 123, some making multiple trips. During the height of the fishery, 2,000 people may be present daily. Proportionately, that would be like 500,000 tourists descending on Juneau. Those people all have trash and sewage, which must be disposed of. Unlike Juneau, Chitina has no local police force for law enforcement or other infrastructure. Another concern is the misuse of the right-of-way. The State of Alaska would not allow 10,000 people to camp and recreate on the Glenn Highway in Anchorage. People have suggested placing signs and fences. In the past, wooden signs were used for firewood and metal signs for target practice. Fencing of the property is not in the best interest of the view shed, tourism or the Alaskan landscape. The legal width of the right-of-way is not in agreement. The legal case Chitina Native Corporation had against the State of Alaska in the early 1990's was not pursued aggressively because of a good faith offering by the State of Alaska for the establishment of this fee. Now the State wants to "back out" of the agreed position. He noted that Department of Transportation & Public Facilities' documentation indicates the same right-of-way at the end of the McCarthy road, which is only 200 feet. Mr. Hart claimed that the State of Alaska has a responsibility to protect the private property located in proximity to the fishery. The issue seems to be focused on one side of that fishery where the right-of-way is located. The fishermen use both sides of the river and do not stay below the ordinary mean high water mark, which has never been established by the State of Alaska or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the Copper River. There are frequently releases of raw sewage from RV's along the roadways and in the gravel pits. People clean their fish at Suzy Lake and then leave the fish remains behind, creating problem bears for the town. Chitina, a town of only few dozen people, is left with the trash of 8,000 to 10,000 people. The dumpsters and toilet facilities currently available now through the fees are not adequate. The fear is that the dumpsters, toilets, or our lands will become a dumping ground for the public. Mr. Hart added that the funds for proper enforcement for the fishery are not going to be increased, which means little or no monitoring and enforcement of trespassing laws for the State of Alaska private properties. The best solution for the State of Alaska would be to continue its agreement for incidental use of 75% of private property. The amount of dip netters being represented by the Chitina Dipnet Association is a very small minority consisting of membership of only 500 people. Mr. Hart emphasized that there are 9,000 to 10,000 dip netters who use the fishery each season. The negative impacts brought by the dip netters to Chitina are growing. The Legislature is considering removing one of the only funding sources for the Village to work with in dealing with the pressures on all of the other properties impacted by not only these users, but also all visitors to the area. Leaving the fee in place would not deny anyone access to the fishery and they would simply be asked by the State of Alaska to assist in paying for the access to do so and clean up the trash and toilets they use. Before there was an agreement between the State, Chitina and AHTNA, village members patrolled the lands and were met with angry dip netters who were distraught because they could not access the river. Many dip netters bring weapons with them to Chitina, and when combined with alcohol, it creates an unsafe situation. This could likely lead to a range war situation where representatives may be injured or indeed killed in the process of protecting the lands. Mr. Hart added that although no one wants to address it, Native lands are not viewed in the same light or treated with the same respect as other private lands. Dip netters would not wander, throw trash in, or relieve themselves in someone's back yard in Kenai with the same abandoned that they do in Chitina. Mr. Hart recommended that the Committee not pass HB 210 and allow the State of Alaska and the Department of Fish & Game to enter into an agreement with a fee of $15 per permit for the next year. There needs to be meetings focused on looking at long-term solutions to the issues and concerns raised. Members of departments from the State could be requested to present answers to the many questions, and then the private property owners could bring forward reasons for compensation for the impacts. He stressed that the time is short and that the dip net fishery opens in June and that there is not enough time to deal with all the unresolved issues. For that reason, Chitina requests an extension of the current agreement for another year, during which time all of the issues could be addressed. RUTH ANN WARDEN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), SPECIAL PROJECT COORDINATOR, AHTNA NATIVE CORPORATION, GLENNALLEN, voiced concern with removing the fee. The remedy for mitigating the issues has not been determined. There is a long list of problems and issues as referenced by Mr. Hart. Ms. Warden emphasized that trespassing on the property is a "huge" concern. That is true especially in the areas where the people are recreating, fishing and hunting. The current plan does work. The plan allows Chitina, the Indian corporation and the State of Alaska to work together to address some of these issues. It provides access for those people through the private lands without ramifications. Ms. Warden stressed that it would not be a good solution to remove the fees and attempt to address all these issues in a short period of time. A year extension would be desirable to work out these concerns. Co-Chair Williams pointed out that a similar issue exists in Ketchikan. He commented on map distributed by Senator Lincoln, indicating that a snow slide that washed out the road system. Land in Saxman has experienced these same types of problems. Placement of signs did not work so the Native Corporation began working with the public and building up the facilities for the public to use. That is paying off for his area and asked if that could be done in Chitina, charging and then policing. The State can no longer be collecting fees and policing those areas for the dip net fishery. He inquired if it would be possible to build a road to the waters edge to help control the flow of people. Mr. Hart responded that they had tried to control the flow using a gated area, which required someone to be on guard 24-hours a day. The public did not like that access and complained to the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and the Department of Fish and Game. That entire concern was placed into litigation. He reminded members that there are 8,000 to 10,000 dip netters in comparison to the 500 people encouraging passage of the legislation. He surmised that there could be a program built but that it would be impossible to implement that this year. SENATOR GEORGIANNA LINCOLN highlighted the map distributed to the Committee members. TAPE HFC 03 - 83, Side B Senator Lincoln pointed out the O'Brien Creek area. She noted how each area would be affected by the trespassing, pointing out that the best fishing is at some of the bluffs. Bluffs do not stop fishermen. The trails are narrow and there are private lands intermingled with State lands and that many people come armed, which can lead to dangerous situations. There are no Village Public Safety Officers (VPSO) on duty. Senator Lincoln voiced appreciation that the sponsor had attempted to work out a situation, however, the gates are to be opened on June 9th. There needs to be a way to work with Chitina to accommodate them during this period. There is no way that they can get the fences up this year. She noted that the fishery ends the end of September. Mr. Hart advised that the majority of the people start showing up around the 4th of July weekend. Senator Lincoln reiterated that this is a volatile situation. She recommended calling the fee a "user fee or costs related to the impacts on the community". She implored the Committee members help to get the village through this season and then they could work something out for next year. REPRESENTATIVE CARL MORGAN spoke to concerns with the other side of the river and how the private lands are affected. Co-Chair Williams interjected that the only way to manage the problem would be in working with the public to address these problems. He recommended hiring someone to police the areas, pointing out that the bill goes into effect on July 1. Representative Coghill corrected that the bill has an immediate effective date. Senator Lincoln reiterated that the areas do not have the time to prepare a plan and that hiring only one person would not be effective. Representative Coghill advised that last year, the opponents had prepared the same argument. He stressed that they currently are charging a trespass fee for public lands. He reiterated that this is not a new discussion. He acknowledged that there are safety hazards associated with the river and that the State knows where the borders of the State lands and private lands are and that the borders are now clearly delineated. Senator Lincoln acknowledged that the village areas need to work on these concerns. The Department of Fish & Game has admitted that they do not have a resolution with Chitina. She maintained that there is no other place in the State of Alaska where there is such an influx of fishers going through such a narrow area. She foresaw problems if these issues are not equitably resolved. Co-Chair Harris asked whether the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities still plans to pay the Chitina Native Corporation for any damages done to property as a result of the trespassing even without the fee. Representative Lincoln replied that had not been confirmed in writing. She speculated that the Department would not reopen the slide at Brian Creek, which would make private lands more congested with increased safety concerns. Co-Chair Harris inquired if there was any other place in the State where a fee was charged for access. KELLY HEPLER, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF SPORT FISH, DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME, explained that this is a unique situation. Co-Chair Harris asked if there was enough opportunity for people to cross on public land to avoid the private lands. Mr. Hepler replied that approximately 60% of the land from Chitina down to the southern access was accessible. One of the primary spots is around Brian Creek. Regarding the right-of-way, many people access the areas with their boats, however, there continues to be a lot of tension. He concurred with the suggestion that the Native corporations create a parking area. Co-Chair Harris stated that he did not want to see the private property owners have their rights abused. He added that he would like to see money placed in the State's budget to compensate for the concern. He asked about the fiscal note. Mr. Hepler replied that some funds go for publishing the permit and bathroom facility use. In response to a question by Co-Chair Harris, Mr. Hepler explained that $18 - $25 dollars goes to Chitina and the other funds for contractual work. Co-Chair Harris asked whether the Department of Fish and Game would continue to pay for waste management if the fee was discontinued. Mr. Hepler responded that was a decision for the Department of Administration, noting that he would not like to lose the $180 thousand dollars from his budget for that purpose. Co-Chair Harris commented that he would look toward the Capital Budget to locate funding for Chitina to help resolve these issues. Representative Stoltze asked for clarification regarding the charge on the Kenai River. Mr. Hepler explained that would be a charge for parking. Representative Stoltze asked the Department's position on that fee. Mr. Hepler commented that the issue was complex and that the Department has not yet taken a position. Representative Chenault asked if there were any fees collected or paid in Kenai for dip netting fishing. Mr. Hepler responded that in the past, monies had been spent for trash receptacles. He added that the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spent time in trash disposal, noting that with the large number of people involved, they were not able to provide the necessary level of service. Representative Chenault raised the concern that there is an inequity of provided services and that cities incur costs due to the location of those fishing areas, whether in Chitina or in Kenai. He proposed that the cost should be State related rather than a city expense. Representative Chenault cited his experience while representing the Kenai borough area. Co-Chair Harris asked if the city of Kenai spent money to alleviate a garbage problem that they believed should have been a State responsibility. Representative Chenault acknowledged the problem with the State designating the fishing area and then taking little responsibility for waste management, parking or habitat concerns. He pointed out that a charge for parking had helped offset some costs in his area. Senator Lincoln thanked the Committee for debating the issue at such length and for giving thought to the people affected by the bill. Co-Chair Harris MOVED to report CS HB 210 (RES) out of Committee with individual recommendations and with the accompanying fiscal note. Representative Foster OBJECTED. A roll call vote was taken on the motion. IN FAVOR: Hawker, Stolze, Whitaker, Chenault, Harris, Williams OPPOSED: Foster, Meyer, Moses Representative Croft and Representative Joule were not present for the vote. The MOTION PASSED (6-3). CS HB 210 (RES) was reported out of Committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with a new fiscal note by the Department of Fish & Game and a zero note #1 by the Department of Natural Resources.