Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/15/2003 08:45 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 210(RES)(efd fld S) "An Act relating to the Chitina dip net fishery." This was the first hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Wilken stated this bill, "eliminates the $25 fee for the Chitina dip net fishing permit and requires State agencies to publicize and mark the State land that provides access to the fishery." RYNNIEVA MOSS, Staff to Representative John Coghill, Jr., presented the bill. SFC 03 # 100, Side A 10:21 AM Ms. Moss continued that this legislation addresses an equity issue, explaining that the Chitina dip net fishery is the only fishery in the State that assesses a fee to participants. She noted the intent of the $25 fee was valid, as it compensated the two private property owners upon whose land was trespassed. Ms. Moss reminded that through the efforts of former Representative John Davies and former Senator Pete Kelly, funds were appropriated to survey the access to the Chitina fishery. With the completion of the survey, she shared that it has been determined that over 60 percent of access to the river is public access on State-owned property. Co-Chair Wilken directed the witness to identify the areas in question on a map she possessed [copy on file]. Senator Bunde asked if the participants would still be required to hold a sport-fishing license. Ms. Moss replied that licenses were not required in the past, although the Alaska Board of Fisheries determined the fishery to be personal use rather than subsistence, and licenses were subsequently required. Ms. Moss detailed the map showing a section of the Copper River and the areas of the dip net fishery, in conjunction with the land that is privately or publicly owned. Ms. Moss clarified that although the fee would not be imposed, a permit would still be necessary to participate in the fishery. She stated this is to ensure that all who participate receive a brochure indicating public assess. She informed that funds remaining from the survey project would be utilized to produce the brochure as well as a "large public sign" indicating the public assess to the river. Ms. Moss qualified that conflicts would continue, as occur in many other areas of the State where people might trespass on private land. She admitted the local residents would be impacted; however, they should "take advantage" of the situation and undertake economic development. She suggested boat ramps, campgrounds and other establishments to accommodate the fishers. Senator Taylor asked if this legislation is identical to a bill he sponsored the previous legislative session. Ms. Moss affirmed and reminded that the original legislation passed the Senate but did not complete the House of Representatives' process before adjournment. Ms. Moss reminded the original legislation contained a provision that would have retained the $25 fee for one year and that Co-Chair Wilken testified, "the intent of the fishery is to have an accessible, productive State fishery". She recalled Co-Chair Wilken supported the collection of fees for one year with the knowledge that an agreement would be reached between the State and the Native corporations that owned portions of the land. Senator Taylor asked about the issue of adverse possession. He understood that over time "prescriptive easements" could be acquired to allow public assess, due to the utilization of privately owned land for several years. He spoke to other pending legislation that would eliminate "any opportunity to gain any of those access rights across that private land". He cautioned that this private land would never become accessible to the public except through a licensing fee if the other legislation passes. Senator Hoffman asked the ownership of the land nearest the parking area indicated on the map. Ms. Moss responded that Chitina and Ahtna Native corporations own most of the private land in the area. Senator Hoffman asked if most participants in this fishery utilize this parking area. Ms. Moss replied that "pavilion area" is used for parking, as well as a private campground at O'Brien Creek. Senator Hoffman asked how the fees were utilized. Ms. Moss detailed that $18 of the fee [likely $8] was paid to the Native corporations to compensate for trespassing; $12 was used to maintain portable toilets and dumpsters; and $2 remained with the Department of Fish and Game to administer the fee program. JESSE VANDERZANDEN, Executive Director, Alaska Outdoor Council, testified this bill is one of the top priorities of the Council for the current legislative session. He told of the approximately 12,000 collective membership of hunters, fishers and trappers represented by the Council, many of whom, he stated participate in the Chitina dip net fishery. He furthered that the Council is comprised of approximately 50 outdoor activities-related clubs, one being the Chitina Dipnetters Association. Mr. VanderZanden characterized this legislation as a "well-timed housekeeping proposal". He pointed out that the survey of the lands around the Chitina River was completed in the Summer 2001, and conclusively showed that at least 60 percent of the area utilized by the dip netters is public land. In addition, he said public corridors were identified that would allow dip netters access to fishing sites without crossing private land. He remarked that as a result of this recently identified public access, the initial $25 fee instituted by the Legislature in the year 2000 to secure trespass rights across the private lands, is no longer necessary. Mr. VanderZanden read portions of a letter from then Governor Tony Knowles to the Chitina Native Corporation dated April 25, 2002, as follows. …Last summer, DOT&PF [Department of Transportation and Public Facilities] staff completed this legislatively funded survey, which held that at least 60 percent of the length of the right-of-way between O'Brien Creek and Haley Creek affords legal public access to the Copper River… The results of this survey places the State in the awkward position of collecting fees from a personal users in the Chitina Subsistence Fishery to pay for access that is not needed in order to participate in the fishery… ADF&G [Department of Fish and Game] is considering a proposal that would repeal the access fee. Mr. VanderZanden next read from an August 25, 2002 letter from then Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Pat Pourchot and then Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue addressed to the Ahtna Native Corporation as follows. …The current year-to-year compensation process has been difficult for all parties and given information from the survey and other developments, we do not believe that the current arrangement is sustainable… A bill seeking a repeal of the fee passed the Senate 18 to one and would likely have passed the House as well if it had not been so close to the end of the session. Mr. VanderZanden furthered that this bill addresses a public/private lands issue that would resolve issues for both private landowners and fishers. He pointed out that public lands have already been posted in the Chitina corridor, specifically to Haley Creek. He understood that adequate funds remained from the survey project to produce and widely distribute brochures delineating public and private lands. Mr. VanderZanden surmised that by delineating these public lands would reduce the impact to private lands caused by trespass, and also allow private landowners to charge a fee for access across their land. He noted this currently occurs in nearby fisheries under similar circumstances. He asserted that because private and public lands had not been identified and posted in the past, fishers were unable to discern trespass on private land, thus necessitating the trespass fee to allow access for all fishery participants. He remarked that proper identification of private land would allow landowners to prosecuting for knowing and egregious trespass, were it to occur. Mr. VanderZanden stated this bill would "get the Department of Fish and Game out of the waste and trash removal business." He asserted that the time spent on contracting for these services was valuable and could have better been spent on managing the fishery. He admitted this bill does not address the matter of funding these services, however, he stressed it should be discussed in the "regulatory arena" rather than the "statutory arena," as no other fishery or access matter contains statutorily mandated fee. BYRON HALEY, President, Chitina Dipnetters Association, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks, in support of passage of the bill. He stressed there is no need to charge one group of people to use public lands to access the Copper River. He noted that participants must purchase a sport-fishing license. He reiterated earlier testimony regarding the survey's findings of 60 percent of the land in the fishery area is publicly owned. He gave a history of the fee, which initially was ten dollars but was raised at the request of the affected Native Corporations. PAUL HOLLAND, Board Member, Chitina Dipnetters Association, testified on his own behalf via teleconference from Fairbanks in support of the legislation. He described the seven-mile area in which the fishery occurs, referencing the aforementioned map. He surmised that approximately 90 percent of the dip netters access the fishery through public land. MARK HEM, Owner, Chitina One-Stop grocery store, Hem Charters guided dip net fishing, a café, and private property in the Chitina area, and Vice President, Chitina Dipnetters Association, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks about his business operations in the Chitna area. He shared that he has had his land surveyed and developed to lessen trespass on his property. He stressed that if the State continues collecting fees from a user group for potential trespass on private property, he should receive payment as well. He opined the fee collection sets a "bad precedent" for the State and he urged passage of this bill. Senator Hoffman noted a portion of the fees was expended on waste removal and similar services. He asked as a resident of the area, if the witness was concerned with the trash of 8,000 visitors not being removed. Mr. Hem was concerned but emphasized that the matter should be addressed differently. He characterized the fee collection primarily addresses trespass on private property. Senator Hoffman commented that the $40,000 expense of waste removal has not been otherwise addressed. Ms. Moss injected that the House Finance Committee discussed the expense of waste removal and that the co-chairs of that Committee committed to finding a solution. She stated that waste removal is undertaken in relation to other fisheries and that the Chitina dip net fishery should be treated equally. Senator Taylor clarified that the Alaska Board of Fisheries changed the definition of the fishery from subsistence to sport and that a sport fishing license would be required to participate. Ms. Moss corrected the classification was changed from subsistence to personal use. Senator Taylor surmised that subsistence is personal use and that if the fishery was classified as subsistence no resident of Fairbanks could participate. Ms. Moss was unfamiliar with the details of the Alaska Board of Fisheries decisions. Senator Taylor offered a motion to report the bill from Committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. Without objection CS HB 210 (RES) MOVED from Committee with zero fiscal note #1 from the Department of Natural Resources and ($172,800) fiscal note #3 from the Department of Fish and Game.