Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/22/1995 01:35 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HB 41 - GATES OF THE ARCTIC NAT PRESERVE RR ROW                             
 VICE CHAIR BEVERLY MASEK announced the hearing of HB 41.  She asked           
 for testimony from the sponsor, Representative Jeannette James.               
 REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES, sponsor of the measure, explained             
 she filed HB 41 with intentions of lifting the restrictions imposed           
 on the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and not because of               
 intentional opening of the area.  She stated that she wanted to               
 remove existing barriers inhibiting access to the wealth and                  
 resources in the areas of concern.  Representative James said, the            
 state owned railroad as defined under 45USC. 12.02, may not apply             
 for a right-of-way across or exercise eminent domain.  She                    
 indicated it was her belief a loophole existed within the existing            
 law.  She indicated that currently there is legislation for the               
 sale of the Alaska Railroad and that this would not preclude the              
 construction of a Railroad.  She felt the intentions of the                   
 prohibition were of good cause at the time.  Representative James             
 explained that while we are trying to access all of the resources             
 in the state, she believes that we need to be sure that we have all           
 of the opportunities available.  Representative James indicated               
 that she encouraged opportunities that would be the least offensive           
 and the most effective access to our resources.  She explained that           
 when an area is made off-limits, there is a loss of efficiency,               
 effectiveness and less offensive methods.  She pointed out that,              
 within the bill packet, there was a page out of the Federal                   
 Register 45 USC. 12.02, stating Congress finds there is a need for            
 access for surface transportation purposes across the Western Kobuk           
 River Unit of the Gates of Arctic National Preserve from the Ambler           
 Mining District to the Alaska Pipeline Haul Road; the secretary               
 shall permit such access in accordance with the provisions of the             
 subsection.  She indicated that with this USC reference, the                  
 federal government recognizes the need for access across the                  
 preserve.  She stated the intentions of HB 41 did not omit  normal            
 decision making and public opinion in determining a right-of-way              
 area through the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.  She                  
 explained that HB 41 does not suggest the development of access               
 would ever occur.  She emphasized that HB 41 was designed only for            
 the removal of the prohibition in the event of accessing the area.            
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES explained that last year, she sponsored a bill           
 for the authorization of the delineation of a corridor from                   
 Fairbanks to the Seward Peninsula for purposes of the possibility             
 of a transcontinental railroad.  Representative James indicated               
 that although development possibilities were probably years away,             
 this coming September, the Interhemispheric Bering Straits Tunnel             
 and Railroad Group will have the third conference on the Bearing              
 Straits Tunnel in London.  Representative James remarked that there           
 was world-wide interest in the Bearing Straits Tunnel project and             
 Alaska possessed the only location where the connection of North              
 America and Eastern Europe was possible by rail.  She noted that              
 technical studies have been accomplished and the project was                  
 determined to be technically feasible.  However, the financial and            
 political aspects of this project have yet to be determined.  She             
 stressed the economic importance of a transcontinental rail system            
 to both Russia and Alaska. She stressed the importance to the                 
 people of Alaska regarding the long term financing ability to take            
 care of the needs of Alaska's citizens.  She emphasized the revenue           
 that would be collected from this transportation corridor and how             
 it would take care of all the physical and social needs of the                
 people in Alaska, with very little interference to their lives                
 adding that the localities on the railroad routes could elect not             
 to have the train stop in their area.  She stated regardless of               
 access to the resources in Alaska, Alaskans will continue to be               
 faced with the lack of funds to meet the Railroad's objectives in             
 the state.                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES reiterated that to the best of her knowledge             
 there were no  right-of-ways that have been identified.  She                  
 mentioned that the necessity for this particular access may never             
 become an issue, but emphasized there should be no prohibition                
 within the area.                                                              
 Number 140                                                                    
 VICE CHAIR MASEK indicated that there was no one to testify via               
 teleconference but asked if anyone from the audience wanted to                
 testify on HB 41.                                                             
 Number 147                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE EILEEN MACLEAN indicated that she opposed HB 41                
 because this area was part of her district and Northwest Alaska               
 would be in opposition to development in this area.  Representative           
 MacLean suggested a more feasible route via the North Slope and               
 indicated there would be no opposition to a railroad accessing the            
 North Slope because of the quantities of the coal, gas and oil                
 resources available in this area.  Representative MacLean stated              
 that Representative James's suggested route through Gates of the              
 Arctic National Preserve in the Kobuk River District has been                 
 closed because of the nature of the environment.  She reiterated              
 her opposition to HB 41.                                                      
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES referred to a map on the wall, with an outline           
 of the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.  She commented on the           
 massive amount of oil, coal and minerals within this area.  She               
 pointed out that there was Arctic Slope coal off the Chukchi Sea              
 that former Governor Sheffield had occasionally mentioned in the              
 past. Representative James indicated to the south, there is the Red           
 Dog Mine.  Representative James commented on the abundance of                 
 minerals within the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and the             
 lack of accessibility to this area.  She emphasized the uncertainty           
 of the need to access this area but  stressed the importance of               
 removing hurdles to gain access in this area. Representative James            
 stated that she understood Representative MacLean's position and              
 concern on HB 41.                                                             
 Number 185                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BILL WILLIAMS commented that he understood the                 
 positions taken by the other committee members.  He mentioned that            
 he does not see anyone from the industry knocking on the door with            
 regards to the urgency  in creating access within the Gates of the            
 Arctic National Preserve.  Representative Williams requested                  
 further explanation of the intentions of HB 41 and stated that he,            
 himself, did not see the urgency for the access.                              
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated that all the safeguards for getting a             
 right-of-way across that area would be in place.  All of the                  
 environmental impact statements and public comment would be                   
 available to the people. She indicated that she understood                    
 Representative MacLean's position that this would not be necessary            
 as long as the prohibition stands.  Representative James further              
 explained that Representative MacLean would oppose HB 41 because it           
 would expose the people in her district to unwanted development.              
 She commented on the importance of looking into the future and the            
 ability to work together in trying to develop resources and protect           
 the environment as well as protect the lives of the people in a               
 cooperative effort.  Representative James agreed that the issue at            
 hand is not that of urgency to open up the area and indicated that            
 there has been no mention that this access was even possible                  
 through the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.  She indicated             
 that some of the proposed railroad routes have been identified  but           
 in order for the successful construction of a railroad there has to           
 be a buildable area and the ability to meet the required incline of           
 1 to 3 percent.  Representative James explained that when there is            
 a blank spot, i.e. access prohibition.  It would limit the                    
 opportunities to find acceptable grades and physical conditions               
 required.  She emphasized that at least in the planning stages we             
 should have options in accessing the area and that the area should            
 not be off limits; currently this is the intent of the existing               
 Number 228                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MACLEAN expressed her concern on the feasibility of            
 what HB 41 proposes.  She remarked that a lot of the minerals such            
 as the coal, oil and gas are located on coastal areas.  She pointed           
 out that the proposed area for access was located in the Interior.            
 She emphasized that the Northwest Arctic Borough would not be in              
 favor of the development in that area.  However, they would be in             
 favor of development on the coastal areas where the minerals are              
 located.  She stated that she did not understand how you would want           
 to have the feasibility of building the railroad from the middle of           
 no where, where we don't know what the minerals are because they              
 are along the coast.                                                          
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES referred to a map of Alaska and the area HB 41           
 indicates.  She pointed out Fairbanks and that it is currently the            
 end of the railroad.  She explained if there was a desire to go to            
 the Seward Peninsula and access the proposed Bearing Straits tunnel           
 over to the Diomede Islands and then over to Russia when we access            
 an adequate buildable area, it would be likely that we would have             
 to go through  The Gates of the Arctic National Preserve area.  She           
 indicated Representative MacLean's idea of taking a more Northerly            
 route and then west was excessive distance.  Representative James             
 mentioned that her route through the southern edge of the Gates of            
 the Arctic National Preserve was a more direct route.  She stated             
 other concerns about entering areas of a National Wildlife Refuge             
 and the greater difficulty of entering the Refuge than through the            
 Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.  She stated the importance             
 of options in gaining access, and if the proposed area was off                
 limits, then that would eliminate a possible route.  Representative           
 James stated that if it was not prohibited then it could be                   
 considered, but this particular route was questionable.  She                  
 indicated that it would be prohibited as long as the prohibition              
 was in place.  She stated that the prohibition does not mention the           
 possibility of a highway in this area.  She explained that the only           
 prohibition is on the state owned railroad and that this was not              
 reasonable.  She indicated that it won't necessarily stop                     
 Congress's request in the Federal Register asking the Secretary of            
 the Interior to allow public access, which could mean highways; the           
 federal government has on record that access should be encouraged.            
 Representative James emphasized that there were a lot of resources            
 up in this area and there should be options to access these                   
 REPRESENTATIVE MACLEAN indicated that there were no resources in              
 the area of concern.                                                          
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES inquired as to the location of Paradise                  
 REPRESENTATIVE MACLEAN replied that Paradise Valley was in the                
 Ambler area and that there were no resources in this area.                    
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated that she rested her case.                         
 Number 287                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MACLEAN explained that from her perspective, the               
 most feasible way to access the area would be to take a north                 
 western route and bypass any federal lands.                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE JERRY SANDERS stated that "we all see it different."           
 He stated that he did not see the urgency of the access.  However             
 if there were a proposal, he would be willing to review it and                
 elaborate on  HB 41.  He suggested an alternate route from                    
 Fairbanks to the Kobuk River and through Nome taking a more                   
 westerly route or through Barrow and around any federal lands.  He            
 stated he did not see any logical reason behind the proposed access           
 and if there were extensive studies in determining the necessity of           
 the proposed access, he would reconsider his decision.  He stated             
 that without a set plan he would have to respect the interest of              
 Representative MacLean who represents the people in the area.  He             
 stated that currently he is in opposition of HB 41 but might not be           
 against it in two years.                                                      
 VICE CHAIR MASEK announced to the members of the Transportation               
 Committee that HB 41 would be held over until Chairman Gary Davis             
 could be present and contribute to the discussion on HB 41.                   
 VICE CHAIR MASEK asked it there were any objections on the                    
 postponement of the hearing.  there being none, HB 41 was held over           
 for future discussion.                                                        

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