Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/12/2001 01:30 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 61 - HABITAT RESTORATION/ENHANCEMENT GRANTS CO-CHAIR MASEK announced that the first order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 61, "An Act authorizing the commissioner of fish and game to award grants for habitat restoration or enhancement projects; and providing for an effective date." Number 0134 KEN TAYLOR, Director, Habitat and Restoration Division, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), explained that the purpose of HB 61 is to provide the commissioner of ADF&G granting authority for federal receipts for habitat and restoration projects only. He emphasized that the bill restricts the commissioner from using any funds from federal aid, Dingle- Johnson/Wallop-Breaux or Pitman Robertson funds. He said that most of the funds would come from the excise taxes that sportsmen pay for hunting and fishing sports equipment. He explained that ADF&G is asking for this "limited" authority because they have experienced difficulty in making grants to private landowners, "particularly on the Kenai," for restoration projects. He told the House Resources Standing Committee: Since 1995, we've had a 50/50 cost-share restoration program with landowners along the Kenai River, to restore and stabilize stream banks that have been trampled by a lot of fishing use. In order to conduct this program, we've had to take the funding that was appropriated by the legislature through [SB 183], which were EVOS [Exxon Valdez Oil Spill] criminal settlement funds, and funnel it through a federal agency so that they could actually do the granting necessary to the private individuals that own the land. In doing so, the federal agencies take 11 percent of the funding right off the top. This is an administratively cumbersome process and we feel the public would be best served if we could make these grants directly to those individuals. MR. TAYLOR pointed out that HB 61 is identical to the bill passed by the House last year, which went to the Senate at the end of session, but "ran out of time before it passed." He encouraged the House Resources Standing Committee to support HB 61. He addressed a concern expressed during the House Fisheries Committee meetings regarding that the grants might be used for other purposes or be granted to "some nonprofit whose motives weren't necessarily pure." Mr. Taylor's response to that was: Since 1995, we've had 186 grants applied for, 180 projects that were approved - and we've completed 170 of them - and if anyone on [the House Resources Standing Committee] is interested, I did hastily put together a list of all those projects - who those grants went to over the last six years. And I think you'll see that this program has been highly legitimate, it goes to landowners that have habitat that needs repair. The landowner pays 50 percent. [ADF&G] has been covering 50 percent through this cost-share program, and occasionally if we find outside money from some other federal agency that we can put in there as well. Number 0599 MR. TAYLOR, in response to a question by Co-Chair Masek, said that he didn't think it would ever be the case that there would be grants awarded in habitat and restoration in order to stop a development project, such as a lodge. He said such activities are almost always done on private land and the habitat and restoration grants given out in the past have been to aid development on a particular piece of private land, not to stop development on someone else's land. Number 0645 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if ADF&G worked in conjunction with the Kenai River Sport[fishing] Association (KRSA). MR. TAYLOR said yes. He listed several groups that ADF&G "coordinates" and "cooperates" with, including KRSA, Kenai Youth Conservation Corp, and the Alaska Fly Fisherman's Association. Number 0708 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if [those agencies listed above] do [habitat restoration] on public land versus ADF&G [restoring] private land. MR. TAYLOR replied that ADF&G has been involved in many projects along the Kenai River, public as well as private projects. He cited the EVOS small-parcel purchases along the Kenai and the Kenai Borough properties as two examples of ADF&G's public land restoration involvement. Number 0776 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN inquired as to whether the landowners come to [ADF&G] for assistance, or does [ADF&G] come to them. MR. TAYLOR answered that when the landowners found out that funding was available, they approached ADF&G. He referred to page 2 of the handout in the bill packet, stating that it should actually follow the last page, which is titled, "Decision Matrix." He discussed the categories listed on the "Decision Matrix" that are used to rate an applicant and prioritize the projects. Number 0873 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if the Decision Matrix had anything to do with the amount of money that was awarded. MR. TAYLOR replied yes. He approximated that ADF&G was given about $1.5 million - appropriated by the legislature six years ago through SB 183 - that they have been awarding each year to applicants. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN referred to the Decision Matrix and asked Mr. Taylor if the varying amounts awarded were determined by [ADF&G], by the application, or through an evaluation. MR. TAYLOR answered that the amount awarded is "determined by an evaluation of the project: The cost benefits of what the applicant has proposed versus what we think would be the return. And you'll find one of the factors that we used for ranking is reasonable project cost." REPRESENTATIVE GREEN clarified his question as follows: If I were a landowner down there, and I came in with (indisc.)... $12,000, or heavens, $19,000, would your group say, "Well Green, you wanting $19,000 to do what you said, we've gone through this matrix, and yeah, you qualify, but it's not $19,000, it's only $8,500. And so we'll match you on $8,500, we're not going to match you on $19,000." And so you get your $9,500, and that just about does it, and I don't have to come up with anything. MR. TAYLOR replied as follows: I have not been through this particular process with our staff on the Kenai, and I can't answer your question. But I suspect that the way things work is that they have a pretty good idea, depending on how many feet of river frontage you're going to be restoring, what techniques you're going to use. I know that our staff has a very good estimate of what it's going to cost per (indisc.) ... per 10 feet of riverbank restoration, depending on the technique. So, while an applicant may come in asking for more than what it might cost, they're not likely to get all of it paid for through this. I think ... we match dollar for dollar, and if we have a project that's $20,000, and it only costs $15,000, the applicant will pay $7,500, and the state will pay $7,500. Number 1065 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if this [habitat restoration] has been done on other "sports rivers." MR. TAYLOR said that so far the efforts of the program have primarily focused on the Kenai River, but there have been some smaller federal grants used to try to "expand this effort to some of the streams in the Matanuska Valley." He remarked, "It isn't anything that's not a 50/50 cost-share program set up like this." Mr. Taylor added that it is the hope of ADF&G to expand the program to benefit other parts of the state. Number 1150 MR. TAYLOR, answering a question by Representative Scalzi, stated the following: Last year the bill allowed for the municipalities to have a tax break for restoration, it gave the private landowners a potential tax break. The original law was specific to the Kenai [River], and now that's been expanded statewide. So other municipalities, if they choose to, can provide for a tax break for restoration purposes. CO-CHAIR SCALZI asked if the 50/50 match was part of the original legislation. MR. TAYLOR answered that it wasn't part of that legislation, but was a "companion piece." He said that more private landowners get involved in restoration if a tax break is made available to them, and the current state statutes are such that only Kenai residents can get a tax break. Number 1230 CO-CHAIR MASEK stated for the record that Representative Kerttula was present. She referred to an earlier statement made by Mr. Taylor regarding a legislator who had expressed concerns over delegated funds being spent for ill purposes, and asked him to expound on that remark. MR. TAYLOR explained that the original bill gave the commissioner [of ADF&G] "broad granting authority" of federal and state funds, with no specified purpose. Therefore, many legislators were concerned about letting the state grant money that was not earmarked for a certain purpose. Subsequently, ADF&G "narrowed the scope" on federal and state funds spending in habitat restoration. Although there was concern that this type of program could be misused in the future, the language of the bill was structured to prevent its misuse. He offered to work on the language with any legislator still concerned with it. CO-CHAIR MASEK referred to page 1, lines 5-6, regarding grant authority, and stated that the wording needed "fine tuning." MR. TAYLOR directed Co-Chair Masek's attention to the remainder of the language in Section 1 of the bill. He read: [The commissioner] may award grants from federal funds, other than funds received under the federal Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux programs He stated, "In other words, federal funds that are not a part of our continuing appropriation from Congress, that are the excise taxes on sporting goods." MR. TAYLOR explained that those funds could only be used for habitat restoration or enhancement projects. He mentioned that there is big movement in the Western United States right now for Congress to provide more funding for salmon habitat restoration, because of the endangered species issue in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Taylor said that, theoretically, if Congress provides those funds, ADF&G would come to the legislature and request a capital project. The money appropriated would not be part of ADF&G's regular operating budget. The legislature would examine ADF&G's outline, determine whether or not to provide those funds, specify the use of the funds, and ensure that the funds were used appropriately. Number 1595 CO-CHAIR MASEK asked if there were any further questions. She closed public testimony, and opened up committee discussion. REPRESENTATIVE FATE made a motion to move HB 61 out of committee. There being no objection, HB 61 was moved out of the House Resources Standing Committee.