Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/19/2001 01:18 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                

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