Legislature(1999 - 2000)
05/16/1999 11:37 AM RLS
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 171-FISHERY DATA; LAND REC'D BY STATE CHAIRMAN COWDERY announced that the first order of business before the committee would be SENATE BILL NO. 171 am, "An Act relating to the release of certain records and reports required by the Department of Fish and Game regarding fish, shellfish, or fishery products and reports of fish buyers and processors; relating to the transfer of land to the state; and providing for an effective date." Number 0087 MARCO PIGNALBERI, Legislative Assistant for Representative Cowdery, Alaska State Legislature, said that he would explain the amendments requested by the Senate to HCS SB 171. Basically, two new sections were added to the HCS SB 171(RES), Sections 4 and 5. He explained that the new Section 4 inserts new language to the chapter on the Alaska Railroad Corporation. The new language is in subparagraph 5 which reads as follows: "(5) apply for or accept a grant of federal land within a municipality; before approving an action under this paragraph, the legislature must determine that the federal land is required for essential railroad purposes." Section 5 is simply a conforming amendment which allows the railroad to submit and accept federal land. The language in Section 5 says that can be done, except for the new provision in Section 4. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ inquired as to the effect this legislation would have on the ability of the railroad and the City of Whittier to enter into that dock agreement. MR. PIGNALBERI said, "My understanding of this amendment would be that before the railroad could accept the DeLong dock, they would have to come to the legislature and seek prior approval." REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ inquired as to why the legislature would want to interfere with that. MR. PIGNALBERI commented that is a policy call. He informed the committee that in previous hearings, it was brought out that the railroad has much land that is excess to the needs of the railroad operations making the railroad more of a real estate company than a railroad operating company. This amendment would make the legislature the arbiter of whether surplus land should go to municipal operations or railroad operations. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS asked if the language in this was in conflict with Title 29 and the supremacy of the local governmental entity to make these decisions versus the state when local lands are at stake. MR. PIGNALBERI said that he did not have that information, but suggested that Legislative Legal and Research Services could be contacted on that point. He noted that the committee packet should contain a letter from a railroad official, Mr Kubitz, who is also standing by via telephone if he is needed. With regards to the Title 29 question, Legislative Legal and Research Services did not note any title conflict. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS requested that Legislative Legal and Research Services be contacted on that point. Number 0431 CHAIRMAN COWDERY commented that there is concern that the railroad is expanding beyond the scope of transportation and moving into the real estate business. Furthermore, some think that the communities experiencing a down turn in funding should be involved to help with the community's budget stream. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ said that he would be curious to know Representative Harris' position on this since Whittier is in his district. MR. PIGNALBERI pointed out that this language is not specific to any district. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ stated that the consequences clearly impact Whittier. He inquired as to the other areas that would be impacted. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS noted that the new hotel project in Fairbanks would probably fall under this as well. She suggested that Mr. Kubitz be contacted with regards to these questions. CHAIRMAN COWDERY noted that there is an ongoing project between Anchorage and Wasilla with regard to an exchange with the military. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ commented that if this is such important legislation, then it could stand alone. Number 0641 JAMES KUBITZ, Vice President, Real Estate and Project Planning, Alaska Railroad Corporation, testified via telephone from Anchorage. He expressed concern with the projects that are currently underway which involve federal transfer of land. The most significant project is the line changes that the railroad has been working on to find a new route through Elmendorf and Fort Richardson. Due to the curvature, those tracks are currently very slow. The railroad has been working with the military for about a year and three alternative sites have been selected. Mr. Kubitz anticipated that land transfer to happen shortly. The railroad has received the initial funding from the federal government to start this approximately $30 million project which the Department of Defense is very interested in occurring. Therefore, having to return to the legislature for approval, depending upon the timing, could slow the project. He also mentioned that there is a plan for a multi-modal depot in Fairbanks that is partially funded and would require a small land trade with the state. There is also a new dock planned in Seward which may necessitate acquiring some tide lands for a new freight dock. Mr. Kubitz stressed that there is a desire to have legislative oversight. He suggested the possibility of exempting the current projects from that legislative oversight while providing a mechanism such as Legislative Council for legislative approval during the interim. He reiterated that the timing is crucial. CHAIRMAN COWDERY understood that the DeLong dock is still in legislation in Washington, D.C. Number 0900 REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS asked if Mr. Kubitz had seen the proposed Rules CS. MR. KUBITZ indicated that he reviewed it yesterday. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS directed Mr. Kubitz to page 4, Section 4, the language that reads, "Unless the legislature approves the action by law, the corporation may not ... (3) extend railroad lines; this paragraph does not apply to a spur, industrial, team, switching, or side track;". She asked if the work being done on the military bases would be included in the definitions of spur, industrial, team, switching, and side track. MR. KUBITZ clarified that the project on the military bases would be a main line change not a switch, spur, or siding. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS inquired as to how far that project has proceeded. MR. KUBITZ informed the committee that about $5 million worth of funding has been received to perform the engineering and the environmental aspects. Three alternative sites have been identified and the site is expected to be selected by summer. Congressional approval is expected before the Congressional members leave Congress. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS inquired as to when the work is anticipated to begin. MR. KUBITZ explained that the federal portion cannot begin until the land is received. He said that would be started in the spring. He informed the committee that there is a project north of the base, Birchwood and Eklutna and Eagle River, which does not involve federal land. However, that project does include a land trade with Eklutna, Incorporated. He noted that there is also a land trade with the Municipality of Anchorage on HLD land. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS asked if there is a specific name for the project being discussed. She clarified that she was referring to what can be started this summer and what has to wait for the federal land. MR. KUBITZ said it is called the Anchorage-Wasilla line change project which involves land through the military bases, Eagle River, Eklutna, and Birchwood. Number 1059 REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS suggested that there should be an exemption for that project. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ noted that the effective date could be changed. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER read the following from statute, "Unless the legislature approves, the corporation may not exchange, donate, sell, or otherwise convey its entire interest in land." Therefore, he surmised that the legislature would currently have to approve the railroad's land swaps. MR. KUBITZ said he believed that to be correct. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER commented then that this may do the railroad a favor by allowing Legislative Council to act on these land swaps during the interim. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ read that statute to mean that the railroad cannot sell its entire land interest without the legislature's approval. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER asked if Representative Berkowitz meant the railroad divesting itself of its entire portfolio. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ replied yes. CHAIRMAN COWDERY and REPRESENTATIVE PORTER did not agree with that interpretation. MR. KUBITZ interjected that generally land is not sold, but rather acquired. This is a new area for the corporation. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER asked if the $30 million from the federal government that facilitated this project, had to be appropriated through the legislature. MR. KUBITZ replied no. He clarified that the money is going to the Department of Defense. This is a defense project not an Alaska railroad project. Number 1218 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked if all the areas Mr. Kubitz mentioned were necessary for railroad operations either directly or for intermodal use. MR. KUBITZ replied yes. In further response to Representative Berkowitz, Mr. Kubitz said that these land holdings are not speculative land holdings. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS asked if the Fairbanks hotel is a speculative land holding and has nothing to do with the railroad. MR. KUBITZ explained that the Chena Landing where the Comfort Inn is located is part of railroad property. Initially, a depot was to be built next to the hotel. Fairbanks is in desperate need of a new depot due to the length of the train and the amount of people utilizing the train there now. That was the original plan and was why the hotel is located there. Mr. Kubitz stated that the site next to the Comfort Inn is still a potential site for the new depot. He clarified that part of the Comfort Inn was going to be utilized as a depot staging area. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS asked if any of the land in the Fairbanks plan is planned for anything other than strictly railroad transportation purposes. MR. KUBITZ replied no. He explained that the Fairbanks plan is merely an expansion of the yard or freight and the multi-modal center. Number 1325 REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS reiterated her prior suggestion to include an exemption for the Anchorage-Wasilla line change project. CHAIRMAN COWDERY indicated that such an exemption could be addressed through an effective date. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER recommended crafting language to allow Legislative Council to take action during the interim. CHAIRMAN COWDERY announced then that SB 171 would be held to address those issues. [The meeting was recessed to the call of the chair and SB 171 was taken up again on this date.] SB 171-FISHERY DATA; LAND REC'D BY STATE [This is the continuation of the meeting held on March 16, 1999 which was recessed to the call of the chair. The meeting was reconvened at 1:34 p.m. At the time of reconvening, Representatives Cowdery, Porter, Green, Kott and Berkowitz were present. Representative Phillips arrived at 1:37 p.m. Representative Joule was not present.] CHAIRMAN COWDERY announced that back before the committee is SENATE BILL NO. 171 am, "An Act relating to the release of certain records and reports required by the Department of Fish and Game regarding fish, shellfish, or fishery products and reports of fish buyers and processors; relating to the transfer of land to the state; and providing for an effective date." Number 1475 MR. PIGNALBERI informed the committee that it had before it a new proposed CS, Version LS0957\K, Utermohle, 5/16/99. He directed the committee to page 4, lines 18-22 which now has new language exempting two ongoing projects from the requirement of legislative approval before acceptance of federal land. Those projects are the Anchorage-Wasilla line change project and the Fairbanks intermodal rail yard expansion project. MR. PIGNALBERI pointed out that the other change in the proposed CS is the effective date. The sponsor of the original bill requested that the immediate effective date be kept in tact. Therefore, Section 6 is drafted such that Sections 1-3 will have an immediate effective date. The remaining sections that do not have a specified effective date will automatically become effective after 90 days. Mr. Pignalberi said that Mr. Kubitz was agreeable to these changes. Number 1751 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ inquired as to why the exemption only applied to the Anchorage-Wasilla line change project and the Fairbanks intermodal rail yard expansion project. Why are the Cordova and Whittier projects not exempted? MR. PIGNALBERI stated that those are the two projects the railroad suggested be exempted. CHAIRMAN COWDERY pointed out that the Whittier project is still being worked on in Washington, D.C. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ commented that he was having difficulties with the attempts to block the Whittier transfer. CHAIRMAN COWDERY said that he did not believe that to be the case. MR. PIGNALBERI reiterated the earlier comments that the City of Whittier is in desperate need of land and access to dock space in order to perform its municipal functions. He indicated that the City of Whittier would like to have a neutral arbiter to determine, as federal surplus land becomes available, whether such land in Whittier should go to the city or the railroad. The City of Whittier hopes that by this measure the legislature will be the arbiter. Number 1907 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ suggested then, if that is the concern, the City of Whittier should be the ultimate determinate of whether the city or the railroad receives the land. If this is an area of local concern, the local government should make the decision. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER pointed out that there needs to be an arbiter between the state agency and the city agency. CHAIRMAN COWDERY added that much time and effort has been spent to accomplish what is attempted in this legislation. Number 2449 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved that the committee adopt and report the proposed HCSSB 171, Version LS0957\K, Utermohle, 5/16/99, out of committee with individual recommendations. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ objected. REPRESENTATIVE PHILLIPS indicated that there was a report back from Legislative Legal and Research Services that there is not a conflict with Title 29. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ understood that Legislative Council would not have the ability to intercede during the interim. Upon a roll call vote, Representatives Kott, Porter, Green, Cowdery, and Phillips voted in favor of the motion to adopt and report the proposed HCSSB 171 out of committee. Representative Berkowitz voted against the motion to adopt and report the proposed HCSSB 171 out of committee. Therefore, HCSSB 171(RLS) was adopted and reported out of committee.