Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/22/1995 01:35 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 statute. 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 resources. REPRESENTATIVE MACLEAN indicated that there were no resources in the area of concern. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES inquired as to the location of Paradise Valley. 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.