Legislature(2001 - 2002)
04/19/2001 01:18 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 244-RIGHT-OF-WAY TO DENALI BOR. FOR RR/UTIL. CHAIR KOHRING announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 244, "An Act relating to a grant of state land to the Denali Borough for a railroad and utility corridor and a railroad development project; repealing provisions relating to a grant of a right-of-way of land for a railroad and utility corridor to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority; and providing for an effective date." Number 0086 REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES, Alaska State Legislature, came forth as sponsor of HB 244. [She referred to a question-and- answer handout provided in the committee packets, addressing questions asked at the previous hearing.] She stated that one of the questions was about the 40,000-acre parcel through the middle [of the area]. She explained the reason for that: It is necessary to select the larger area in order to ensure the best possible right-of-ways surveyed. There needs to be a wide swath to select from, so that all the varied interests and concerns - from being a good neighbor to avoiding wildlife, habitat, or wetlands - can be addressed. In addition, it's ideal to have a larger parcel to select a smaller one from so it can meet specific needs for rail such as curves and grades. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES noted that the next question was whether there needs to be a "drop-dead" date. She referred to past history on this project and said there is opposition from those who don't want anything to happen there at all. Her assessment is that there is a growing problem in that area because the road itself is not sufficient at this time. She said her biggest fear is that other people will demand a road. However, she is opposed to a road and thinks the railroad is more environmentally friendly. As for the drop-dead date, she said she couldn't figure out what it should be. If one were set, it would help those people who don't want it to happen, by confusing the issue and causing delays; therefore, she wasn't willing to put in a drop-dead date. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES remarked that there was also a concern that this Kantishna Holdings project is a full-force contract; she said it isn't. The state is not saying, "Who wants to come and put a railroad in here?" The state government, Denali Borough, and Alaska Railroad [Corporation] will always retain all the ownership of the land. Another question, she said, was whether this right-of-way should be part of the borough's land selection. In response, she said: I talked to the borough to see what was the status of their land selection as it is, because this says ... the maximum that they can get is 3,500 acres. More than likely, it will be about 1,400 acres, but we put the 3,500 acres in there because we didn't know what the largest amount should be. They were entitled to 49,000 acres. Currently, they have gotten 20,000 acres of their selection; the other 29,000 is still out there for selection. ... They went through a two-year process to figure out what lands to select by going to all the various communities in the Denali Borough and [asked] them which particular parcels they'd like to select so that they could have something in their community. And so that's how they designed and found this 49,000 acres of selection to be made. Now, it turns out they weren't able to really walk all over every square foot of those parcels. And some of those parcels that they've already gotten in the 20,000 ... are just not going to be utilized at all, because there are wetlands and other things [that] they can't do anything with. ... They did not know that when they selected them. And in talking to DNR [Department of Natural Resources], DNR said they could give them back, but they can't get any replacements. ... I'm not willing to put it in the bill to say that it is part of their entitlement. However, if it turns out to be part of their entitlement when it goes through the other committees and gets to the end and people would demand that, then I would just wait and see if that's what people think. Number 0578 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated that some people asked whether the "Stampede Trail" would be best because this goes through the middle of that area. In response to that, she said it is not a railroad route. In fact, it was built by Yutan Construction with an old D3 Caterpillar tractor, and would not even be considered a road if it were built today. She noted that no part of the proposed route crosses any designated wilderness areas. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES, in response to the question of why a second access should be constructed just a few miles north of the existing park roads, said it is true this proposed right-of- way is just 17 miles north of the park entrance, but the two access routes are separated by a massive mountain range. Eventually, park visitors could complete a loop using the existing roads for inbound or outbound portions while enjoying a unique viewing experience throughout the entire route. She added that it is not part of this plan, but it could happen. She noted that there is another $1.32 million that has been appropriated for the construction of this access, and she thinks the Senator from that district has $330,000 of matching funds. CHAIR KOHRING surmised that there would be no committee substitute or modifications. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES replied that she has no plans to make any amendments or provide a committee substitute. Number 0767 REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH remarked that most of the questions [Representative James addressed] were his; he was completely satisfied and had no objection to moving the bill out. CHAIR KOHRING asked whether there has been any examination of the feasibility of running a rail line down [the existing road through the park]. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES responded that that has been discussed, but even though the road itself is not part of the park, there's an awful lot of past history about that road that still hasn't been determined in court. She remarked that it would be possible to put another rail line down through the park, perhaps south of the [existing road]. She added that she is a big supporter of accessing the parks by rail, as opposed to car. She noted that there are some really dangerous parts in that area; for example, the Polychrome Pass has a single-lane road with no guardrail. CHAIR KOHRING commended Representative James for taking the lead on this issue. He said he thinks it is a very environmentally sound way of getting a large number of people in [the park] with minimal damage to the environment. He added that the economic development aspect helps to enhance tourism in the area by opening up this alternative access. Number 0986 REPRESENTATIVE MASEK asked whether Kantishna Holdings, Inc., has been around for a while. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES responded that she thinks it has been in existence for 10 or 12 years, having been formed for this specific project. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI moved to report HB 244 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal note. There being no objection, HB 244 was reported from the House Transportation Standing Committee.