Legislature(1995 - 1996)

04/24/1996 08:15 AM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 CSSB 198(FIN) - HOMER AIRPORT CRITICAL HAB. AREA                            
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN indicated the next bill on the agenda was CSSB              
 198(FIN).  He asked Senator John Torgerson for come forward to                
 present his bill.                                                             
 Number 1930                                                                   
 SENATOR JOHN TORGERSON, Sponsor of SB 198, distributed a photocopy            
 of an aerial photograph of the proposed critical habitat area.  He            
 read the following statement:  "The Homer Airport encompasses about           
 1100 acres totally.  This particular legislation would take 295               
 acres and set it aside as a critical habitat area.  The primary               
 purpose for a critical habitat area is for the moose habitat for a            
 relatively large herd of moose that winter - when the high snows              
 hit, they come down and winter in that particular area.  The bill             
 contains language for guaranteed public access to the area to                 
 continue whatever uses have been going on in the past such as                 
 fishing, hunting, trapping and other public access to the area.               
 This bill is supported by the city of Homer, by resolution, and               
 also by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, by resolution.  The             
 city of Homer is the local jurisdiction that has the zoning and               
 other authorities that have to do with lands within that                      
 jurisdiction.  There's also other letters of support in your packet           
 from quite a few other different agencies.  We've tried our best              
 through this piece of legislation to maintain a lot of the                    
 activities that are currently happening within that area and not              
 put any undue restrictions on things that may take place."                    
 SENATOR TORGERSON continued, "One of the reasons that I bring this            
 bill forward is that it does have the underlining restrictions that           
 are on airport property that preclude any development of any kind             
 in height restrictions, building and other things unless it's                 
 approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  So, this is           
 probably the overlining restrictions placed on it because it is               
 airport property are a lot more intense than any critical habitat             
 area that we have in the state as far as any type of development.             
 This just basically sets this aside so that the moose habitat will            
 be protected in that area."                                                   
 Number 2063                                                                   
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN referred to the map that Senator Torgerson had              
 distributed and asked if the area being discussed was the black               
 outlined area.                                                                
 SENATOR TORGERSON responded yes.  He added, "The original intent of           
 the legislation had two small triangle pieces down here in the                
 lower corner and also the big chuck right here.  As you can see,              
 this larger piece is currently all wetlands except for a portion.             
 I don't know how with today's rules on wetlands development, how              
 we'd ever develop that into being anything.  That's another reason            
 why that this makes good sense to set this aside; it truly is                 
 probably just moose habitat except for maybe a small portion.                 
 These two chucks down here, were amended out in the Senate Finance            
 Committee, so they are no longer a part of that, but I couldn't               
 block them out very well."                                                    
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN noted there were two other areas and asked if               
 they were still a part of it.                                                 
 SENATOR TORGERSON replied those were the areas he was referring to            
 and they were not a part of it; just the larger piece which would             
 be the north side of the runway.   He noted that he had a technical           
 amendment for the committee's review on the boundary change that              
 the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities had recently           
 given him.                                                                    
 Number 2126                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BARNES made a motion to adopt CSSB 198(FIN) as the             
 working document.  Hearing no objection, it was so ordered.                   
 Number 2139                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BARNES made a motion to adopt Amendment 1 on page 1,           
 line 13, deleting "S1/2NE1/4" and insert "S1/2NEl/4NW1/4".  Hearing           
 no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted.                                        
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if there were any questions of the sponsor.           
 Hearing none, he asked the wish of the committee.                             
 Number 2160                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BARNES made a motion to move CSSB 198(FIN) as                  
 amended from the House Resources Committee.                                   
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN noted there were a number of individuals waiting            
 to testify via teleconference on SB 198.                                      
 Number 2194                                                                   
 HARRY GREGOIRE, Mayor, City of Homer, testified via teleconference            
 that a group of registered voters had circulated a petition asking            
 that they be allowed to vote on SB 198.  He noted the voters have             
 more than the required number of signatures and requested that                
 committee members allow the voters to have a meaningful election.             
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if Mr. Gregoire was indicating that he                
 wanted to have an election in Homer?                                          
 MR. GREGOIRE said affirmatively and added, "They have circulated a            
 legal petition by the registered voters of Homer.  They have the              
 required signatures and I respectfully ask that your committee                
 allow them to have this election."                                            
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN questioned what would prevent them from doing               
 that on their own right.                                                      
 MR. GREGOIRE said it would be moot if the committee passed the                
 legislation without some stipulation that the voters would be                 
 allowed to have an election.                                                  
 Number 2260                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BARNES asked Mr. Gregoire if he thought the people             
 who had sponsored and supported the petition were opposed to this             
 MR. GREGOIRE responded they definitely appear to be opposed to it.            
 He added it's estimated that 1 person out of 10 would be in favor             
 of the legislation; the rest would be against it.                             
 REPRESENTATIVE BARNES inquired how many signatures were on the                
 MR. GREGOIRE responded, "In excess of 200.  The required amount               
 that had to be on the petition was 163 or 25 percent of the last              
 Number 2296                                                                   
 SENATOR TORGERSON said he knew the petition had been circulating in           
 Homer.  He stated his direction comes from the city council in this           
 particular instance.  This is not a new issue for the city of                 
 Homer; there's been a working group around for about the last 8-10            
 years to try to set this land aside.  He stated, "I did check with            
 Legislative Legal to see if we could put an effective date on this            
 bill that would be something that would trigger with the local                
 election.  The legal opinion basically says we cannot do that.                
 That would be delegating authority that rests sort of with the                
 legislature to some other body that we don't recognize.  So I                 
 thought at best, that would be a good way to handle this to just              
 let the election process go.  I will tell the committee for your              
 information that the council has overrode the mayor's veto four               
 times on this particular issue and I believe the council is                   
 representing the people of Homer; it has been unanimous consent               
 when they overrode this veto so I don't know exactly where else I             
 could get any direction if it wasn't from the council on this                 
 Number 2343                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE LONG asked if it was municipal or state lands.                 
 SENATOR TORGERSON responded it was state lands within the                     
 municipality of Homer - within the city limits of Homer.                      
 Number 2390                                                                   
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN inquired as to the reason for the opposition to             
 dedicating this land as wetlands and leaving it undeveloped.                  
 MR. GREGOIRE responded that eventually the city is going to have to           
 take over the operation of the airport from the state.  There has             
 been some indication of that in the past and the state now wants to           
 cut over 700 feet of their runway which would turn them into a bush           
 airport.  He added, "We have to have the lands on both sides for              
 airport-related businesses.  This is not something that has just              
 come up.  Our Homer Economic Development Commission has a long list           
 of things that has been passed and approved by the council for the            
 economic development of the airport.  It's nothing new."                      
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN noted the committee had heard testimony that Mr.            
 Gregoire's opinion had been overridden several times.                         
 MR. GREGOIRE replied, "Well it has in effect that a year ago when             
 we touched on this subject, I was assured that there would be lands           
 on both sides of the airport for airport related businesses.  That            
 hasn't happened and now there's only the south side which has a               
 lake which is floating the whole area over there that needs some              
 work to keep it from making more wetlands out of the whole                    
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN thanked Mayor Gregoire for his testimony and                
 called Mildred Martin to testify.                                             
 Number 2415                                                                   
 MILDRED MARTIN testified from Homer that the legislation before the           
 committee was a culmination of over 10 years of work.  She had                
 personally been involved with the committee for about four years              
 and in that time, she participated with the first petition which              
 received about 200 signatures in two days.  She added, "This                  
 legislation enjoys the support of five of the six city council                
 members who are elected and represent the residents of Homer.  The            
 legislation also enjoys the support of the Kenai Peninsula Borough            
 Assembly.  The proposed critical habitat area comprises over 85               
 percent of high value wetlands.  The lands for future Homer airport           
 expansion have already been withdrawn."  She urged committee                  
 members to support and to pass SB 198 out of committee.                       
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN thanked Ms. Martin for her testimony and asked              
 Derek Stonorov to testify.                                                    
 Number 2450                                                                   
 DEREK STONOROV, Vice Chairman, Beluga Wetlands Task Force,                    
 testified via teleconference that the task force had been created             
 more than three years ago with a goal of creating the Homer airport           
 critical habitat area.  He said, "We believe that only through                
 appropriate habitat protection can we have a viable and harvestable           
 lower peninsula moose herd.  Senate Bill 198 addresses future                 
 airport expansion, airport safety, airport operations and does an             
 excellent job or protecting the last large piece of moose habitat             
 on the Homer bench.  The proposed legislation is actually more                
 restrictive than the 1985 Homer Airport Master Plan which proposed            
 this land transfer in the first place."  He noted they had gone               
 through the democratic process on this and he, personally, had gone           
 before the city council on five different occasions.                          
 TAPE 96-66, SIDE B                                                            
 Number 001                                                                    
 MR. STONOROV continued, "...committee hearing.  At that time, 23              
 were in favor and 3 were opposed."  He recommended quick passage of           
 SB 198.                                                                       
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked Roy Hoyt, Jr. to testify next.                        
 Number 011                                                                    
 ROY HOYT, JR., testified via teleconference from Homer that he                
 commenced flying in January 1942; was an air traffic controller for           
 (indisc.) years and was in Alaska and an air traffic facility                 
 manager for over 20 of those years.  Forty two years ago while in             
 the military, he was involved in a fatal aircraft accident that was           
 caused by a Canadian Goose going through the windshield.  He                  
 mentioned the recent accident at Elmendorf Air Force Base where 24            
 lives were lost and said that should be cause for thought.  He                
 stated historically there have been problems with birds at the                
 Homer airport.  He felt it was irresponsible to have a critical               
 habitat area adjacent to the airport.  By creating a critical                 
 habitat area, the state is certainly increasing their liability for           
 any aircraft accidents caused by a bird strike.                               
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN thanked Mr. Hoyt for his testimony and asked Luke           
 Welles to testify.                                                            
 Number 063                                                                    
 LUKE WELLES, Member, Homer Economic Development Commission,                   
 testified via teleconference in opposition to SB 198.  He said, "As           
 a resident of the city of Homer, I am very much opposed to a                  
 critical habitat area being formed within the city limits by state            
 legislation.  Some of the 295 acres around the airport are                    
 wetlands, but not all.  There are several large sections of spruce            
 trees (indisc.) growing on the land around the airport signifying             
 areas which cannot be identified as wetlands.  There are myriads of           
 ways to develop in sections this land which could enhance both the            
 airport as a port and the economy for the city of Homer.  The land            
 is current zoned as general commercial 2 by the city which                    
 indicates the economic potential of this property to the city of              
 Homer.  If the state deems this property a critical habitat area,             
 it will ban the citizens of Homer from ever using this property for           
 any economic development.  This ban should not occur especially               
 without approval from the people who are affected the most - the              
 citizens of Homer."                                                           
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN called on Stan Welles to present his testimony.             
 Number 116                                                                    
 STAN WELLES, Business Owner, testified from Homer that he owns all            
 or a significant part of three businesses and he is opposed to the            
 habitat area.  He said, "I'm used to working with (indisc.) and               
 aviation; each are important, each are needed and each have a place           
 but not the same and definitely not at the same time.  Holstein               
 bulls and moose have about the same temperament; gentle except when           
 they don't want to be.  From a safety and liability point of view,            
 we have enough moose per capita now.  Conscientiously enhancing the           
 in-town moose brings implicit liability in the case of personal               
 injury or death.  With respect to wildlife management, the browse             
 in the proposed area is only marginally adequate to support the               
 moose feeding there now.  Gene O'Dell (indisc.) of the Alaska                 
 Department of Fish & Game has proposed a limited hunt - a                     
 controlled hunt to further control this moose population.  Tourist            
 viewing - not often during the summer.  It's too warm; a marginal             
 food supply and too many people.  We send our tourists to North               
 Forks road."                                                                  
 Number 168                                                                    
 RALPH CLENDENEN testified via teleconference in opposition to CSSB            
 198(FIN).  He said he concluded that the establishment of an                  
 uncontrolled wildlife preserve in the middle of the first class               
 city of Homer must be unprecedented; thereby giving the contingency           
 of personal injury attorneys much reason to applaud the                       
 legislature's actions in this matter.                                         
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN thanked Mr. Clendenen for his testimony and                 
 called on Lynn Whitmore to testify.                                           
 Number 199                                                                    
 LYNN WHITMORE, Co-Chairman, Beluga Wetlands Task Force; and                   
 Chairman, Homer Fish & Game Advisory Committee testified from Homer           
 that he has been involved with the Fish & Game Advisory Committee             
 for about 15 years, so he is familiar with the issues involved.               
 He said, "I don't usually agree with Fish & Game when it comes to             
 cow hunts, but in this case since we have a severe habitat                    
 depletion, we now have a cow hunt.  This proposed habitat would               
 allow us to utilize our food source which is one of the few                   
 remaining for the Homer Bench herd in the wintertime.  (Indisc.)              
 funds will be available to a nonprofit corporation made up of                 
 representatives from AEA, Fish & Game and Homer Fish & Game                   
 Advisory Committee.  This corporation could target high use areas             
 of the moose by enhancing browse away from the immediate vicinity             
 of the Homer airport to the far side of the proposed habitat -                
 those areas are shown on drawing you have in front of you - which             
 is where most of the desired (indisc.) already exists anyway.  So             
 funds for such a project are already in place through a cash                  
 endowment and transfer of mitigation lands for the Bradley Lake               
 hydro electric project (indisc.).  This is one of the requirements            
 of the federal energy regulatory commission license."                         
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN announced that Nancy Lord would be next to                  
 Number 247                                                                    
 NANCY LORD testified via teleconference requesting the committee              
 look at the record in that this proposal is part of the Homer                 
 Airport Master Plan that was adopted 10 years ago.  It went through           
 the entire process of review by the city advisories, the planning             
 and zoning committee, the park & recreation committee, the city               
 council by a unanimous vote, the borough assembly with unanimous              
 support, letters of resolutions in support from agencies and                  
 organizations, etc.   She noted that Senator Torgerson, Senator               
 Leman and the Senate Resources Committee had made a personal visit            
 to Homer at which time it was widely supported.  She urged the                
 committee to pass CSSB 198(FIN)_ from committee.                              
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked Mary Griswold to testify next.                        
 MARY GRISWOLD testified from Homer that she lives just outside the            
 Homer city limits on a moose traveled corridor between their summer           
 range and their wintering grounds, along the Homer Bench.  She                
 said, "I regularly walk from my house to the Beluga wetlands in               
 their hoof prints and enjoy watching them in my front yard on their           
 search for browse.  I am also a hunter and enjoy eating moose meat.           
 Moose are essential to my Alaskan experience and protecting natural           
 habitat is essential to their survival as expanding human                     
 residential development replaces their traditional range."  She               
 urged the committee to support the Homer airport critical habitat             
 Number 316                                                                    
 JIM REARDON testified from Homer that he is a 40-year resident of             
 Homer and has been involved in fisheries and wildlife management in           
 Alaska since 1937 as Professor of Wildlife Management at the                  
 University, fisheries biologist for the Department of Fish & Game,            
 board member for 12 years on the Board of Fish & Game and the Board           
 of Game, and outdoors editor for 20 years for Alaska Magazine.  He            
 strongly supported CSSB 198(FIN).  He said, "In 40 years, I've seen           
 moose habitat in the Homer area disappear.  Latecomers don't have             
 the perspective that I have on it.  Another point I'd like to make            
 is that Merrill Field several years ago was a three or four mile              
 drive from Anchorage.  Now it's engulfed by urban sprawl.  Each               
 year several small planes lose power on takeoff at Merrill and have           
 to land on (indisc.-coughing).  I'm a private pilot and if I lose             
 power on takeoff, I'd rather land in the trees or the swamp than on           
 a freeway or a house.  And this would prevent house and freeway               
 development in the immediate vicinity of the Homer airport."                  
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN thanked Mr. Reardon for his testimony and asked             
 Jack Cushing to present his testimony.                                        
 Number 366                                                                    
 JACK CUSHING, City Council Member, Homer City Council, testified              
 from Homer that he is a professional engineer, licensed in the                
 state of Alaska and trained in the area of economic development               
 since the age of 18.  He stated, "I believe this is a great idea to           
 put this into a habitat.  If you talk about development cost of               
 trying to build anything in this wetland, it would just be                    
 incredible.  We'd be coming to you guys asking for funds every                
 which way trying to do just about anything in this habitat, or the            
 majority of it.  It should be left to the moose."  He noted the               
 signatures on the petition are uncertified; they had not been                 
 counted by the city clerk yet.  He added this habitat has nothing             
 to do with either end of the runway.                                          
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked Mr. Lentfer to give his testimony at this             
 Number 437                                                                    
 JACK LENTFER, Wildlife Biologist and former member of the Board of            
 Game, testified from Homer that the winter habitat for the moose is           
 severely depleted in the Homer area because of human development.             
 He said this area needs to be protected as winter moose habitat.              
 Also, development is eroding the quality of life in Homer.  As an             
 example, the Homer Spit was an essentially pleasing and                       
 biologically productive area but it is now being trashed.  He noted           
 that the aesthetic and natural value of some of the areas in the              
 Homer area needed to be maintained.  He urged the committee to                
 support CSSB 198(FIN).                                                        
 Number 471                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BARNES withdrew her motion.                                    
 Number 476                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE TORGERSON stated, "Mr. Chairman, the Senate                    
 Resources and myself who is introducing this legislation took very            
 seriously the concerns of pilots and other people that use the                
 Homer airport or any airport as far as that goes, but this                    
 particular bill has three sections in it which prohibit any                   
 activity that would enhance the bird population.  Again, in Senate            
 Resources, we didn't think that was enough so we put one more                 
 section in that says, `Neither the Department of Fish & Game nor              
 any person may create, develop or enhance bird habitat within the             
 Homer Critical Habitat Area.'  When Senator Leman went to Homer,              
 that was one of his major concerns was to look at the two out                 
 piecings that I showed you on here - the small triangles - that was           
 one of the major reasons they were removed from the legislation was           
 that that was the intent at that time, to enhance - not enhance -             
 but to protect a small group of Aleutian terns that are nesting               
 there.  I would also say, Mr. Chairman, there is nothing in this              
 bill that would prohibit the Department of Transportation from                
 going in and doing their normal bird control that they would do in            
 any airport anywhere within their jurisdiction.  And if there is an           
 accident or something that relates to that and it can be proven               
 because there's too many birds in the area, the responsibility                
 would fall back on the Department of Transportation for not doing             
 something that they would normally do under normal sense.  It has             
 nothing to do with this legislation."                                         
 Number 570                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE PETE KOTT made a motion to pass HCS CSSB 198(RES)              
 out of the House Resources Committee with individual                          
 recommendations and accompanying fiscal note.  Hearing no                     
 objection, it was so ordered.                                                 

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