Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/24/1996 08:15 AM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 bill? 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 petition. 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 election." 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 issue." 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 airport." 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 testify. 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 area. 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 time. 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.