Legislature(1999 - 2000)
03/04/1999 08:04 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 7(RES) "An Act relating to the University of Alaska and university land, and authorizing the University of Alaska to select additional state land." Mel Krogseng, staff for Senator Robin Taylor, testified. She explained that the federal government established the University of Alaska as a land grant institution to provide for the higher education requirements of Alaska's people. Most colleges established under the land grant program were endowed with sizable land bases from which to generate income to be used for operating purposes. However, the University of Alaska received only 111,000 acres of the land it was originally supposed to receive, according to Mel Krogseng. Statehood played into this. The State Of Alaska received a large amount of land with the assumption that it would turn a portion over to the University of Alaska. SB 7 would give no less than 250,000 and no more that 260,000 acres of state land to enhance revenues for higher education to the University of Alaska. Twenty percent of the revenues generated from a region would be appropriated by the Board of Regents to the campus nearest the area that the revenue was generated from providing that the local government provided a comparable match. Mel Krogseng noted that the bill was changed from a bill before the committee the prior year, and should be easier to understand. She referred to a packet of additional information provided that morning that outlined the major questions asked relating to the bill. Those included which lands would be available or not available for selection and what was to happen to the revenue stream of land that was leased at the time conveyance. She briefly addressed three amendments Senator Robin Taylor asked to be brought forward. The first would reword page 10 lines 10-24. The original language was confusing, she explained. It also would make conforming changes to pages 3 and 8. Senator John Torgerson asked how this would interact with the ongoing municipal entitlement program and who would have first right of refusal on lands located within the boundary of a local government that hadn't made it's selection. Mel Krogseng answered that if the University of Alaska selected a piece of land that was also selected by a municipality or the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources believed that it might be selected by a municipality, that land could not be conveyed for at least three years. The municipality had a three-year window to make its selection and finalize that transaction. In essence, they would have first right for a three-year period, she concluded. The same would be true for land that the commissioner felt might be included in an oil or gas lease program. Senator Dave Donley had a constituent contact his office with concerns about access to University of Alaska land for hunting and sport fishing uses. He asked what provisions in this legislation would address those concerns. Mel Krogseng qualified that her office had not received those comments directly, but had heard from other offices that had received calls. She said that provision had been left out of the bill. In talking with Wendy Redmond from the University of Alaska, Mel Krogseng said they were advised that the University tried to keep its lands open for hunting and fishing. Because there had been such an outcry from the public regarding this issue, the matter was specifically addressed in one of the proposed amendments. She read the language, "Land conveyed to the University of Alaska under AS 14.43.65 before conveying or disposing of an interest in the land to a third party, shall be managed in a manner that permits the continuation of traditional uses of the land to the maximum extent practical." She felt that would cover the problem. Senator Gary Wilken spoke of work done over the interim by Senator Pete Kelly that set forth some specific areas that would be part of this bill. Senator Gary Wilken wanted to know if the sponsor had given consideration to including those areas rather than a broad 250,000 acres. Mel Krogseng was unaware of the work Senator Pete Kelly had done. However, there was a provision in the bill that said the parcels must be of at least 640 acres to prevent the University of Alaska from picking only the cream of the crop. Senator Gary Wilken asked if the 250,000 acres was granted, did she have an estimated five or ten-year plan of revenue this would generate? Mel Krogseng responded she didn't because it would depend on how those lands would be managed by the University of Alaska and whether the lands selected were timberlands or other types of lands. Senator Pete Kelly supported the University of Alaska getting the land grant, but was concerned this bill had the same makeup as other bills that failed. He felt that selecting the land could move toward getting needed support. He asked if the sponsor had discussions with the Knowles Administration, Native corporations or others that might oppose this bill and had there been enough changes to the bill to satisfy their concerns. Mel Krogseng said her office had talked with the mining association and their concerns had been taken care of with this version of the bill. They had no objection to the bill. She had not talked with Knowles Administration or any of the Native corporations. Mel Krogseng referred to maps handed out to committee members to give an idea of the amount of land this would encompass. "We're not talking about a whole lot of land here; we're talking about less than 12 townships." she stressed. Senator Pete Kelly wanted to know if all the Mental Health Lands Trust land had been conveyed. Co-Chair John Torgerson knew there were still unsettled municipal entitlements and asked if Mel Krogseng knew if there were any other land entitlements pending that would counter this program. Mel Krogseng did not know of any but deferred to Carol Carroll of Department of Natural Resources. Senator Pete Kelly commented that language in the bill was confusing as to whether or not oil and gas land could be selected. Mel Krogseng replied that land included in a five-year proposed oil and gas-leasing program would not be available for selection. Land for which a lease was pending, land subject to an oil, gas, or coal lease or coal prospecting permit, land subject to a mining claim, mining prospecting site upland mining lease or mining lease hold location would not be available. Additionally, land that was necessary to carry out the purpose of an inter-agency land management agreement, land subject to conveyance to a land exchange or a land settlement agreement or land reserved for the public domain would also not be available. She admitted there was some confusion with the revenue stream. Between the time the University of Alaska selected the piece of land and the time that land was conveyed, the state would maintain and continue to have the right to enter into leases. If the state entered into an oil and gas lease during that time period, the revenue from that lease would stay with the State Of Alaska even though conveyance might be a year ahead. The revenue stream for oil, gas or coal would stay with the state for five years after the affective date of the act. All other lease revenues would transfer to the University of Alaska upon conveyance of title. Management would transfer at the same time. She continued explaining that if the University of Alaska selected a piece of land that was subject to a timber lease they take that land subject to any encumbrances that were on it at the time of selection. After five years past the effective date of this act, the oil, gas and mineral rights would transfer to the University of Alaska. Senator Al Adams referred to the recent on-going School Trust Land Litigation against the State Of Alaska that alleged the state breached the trust of the school trust management. He wanted to know how that would effect this legislation if complainants won. Would they have first right of selection? Mel Krogseng replied that she was unsure and would defer to the department. Co-Chair John Torgerson interjected that the claim would be on Sections 16 and 36 of every township, which was the old school entitlement and if the plaintiff won, it would tie up those two sections. He noted the lawsuit had a long way to go through the process. Senator Al Adams asked for a response to his proposed Amendment #4. Its intent was to ensure that municipalities had first claim to the lands. Mel thought that matter was covered in the bill. Senator Dave Donley saw where a proposed amendment offered by the sponsor would protect traditional access to the lands, but wanted to know if there was a provision elsewhere that would guarantee access for sport hunting and fishing activities. Mel Krogseng was not aware of any and deferred to Wendy Redmond. Mel Krogseng detailed the other proposed amendment Senator Robin Taylor requested be offered. It would shorten the timeframe the University of Alaska would have to select the lands from 2020 to 2005. He was not adamant about the particular year and was open to suggestions. WENDY REDMOND, Vice President of University Relations, University of Alaska, came to the table and stated that this was an important piece of legislation for the University of Alaska. The University believed access to an appropriate land grant was in the long-term best interest of the University. She wanted to make it clear that land was not the answer to all the University's financial problems. It would be about ten years before they would see any revenue come from those lands. She therefore warned this was not a way to opt out of dealing with the university's operating budget. She spoke about the formation of the University of Alaska by the federal government and the intent to make it a land-grant program. As the largest state in the union having the smallest land grant for its university was not a position to be in, she lamented. She referred to the proposed amendment addressing the access issues. She had no objection to the amendment, but requested that if it was adopted, the tort immunity provision be returned to the bill. She said the university was strict about preventing access to lands that were currently under development such as mining and timber harvests. However, in many circumstances, people ignored the restrictions and traveled on the land. Senator Al Adams wanted to know if the state would ever get to the point of selecting University of Alaska lands as a result of the mental health lands selections, pending municipality selections and also with the current school trust land selection litigation. Wendy Redmond responded that the current litigation with the schools was in a very early stage and would take many years to get resolved. If they were successful they would have to enter an agreement with the state to select lands of equal value. She thought there was a possibility that it may tie up a lot of lands in the future. Hopefully, if this bill goes through we would have completed our selections well before this happens, she said. She then commented on the other sponsor proposed amendment that would change the termination date of the bill. She thought the year 2005 was too short a time period to complete selection. She suggested a minimum deadline of 2010 since it would take a long time to make the selections. Senator Al Adams noted that the purpose of the land grant was to generate income for the University of Alaska. "If you had a choice between getting $250 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, would you take that over the 250,000 acres of land?" Wendy Redmond responded that they would choose the money. Co-Chair John Torgerson referred to earlier conversations with Wendy Redmond about attempting to limit liability so there could be free access to the university lands. He didn't buy the solution of posted no trespassing signs at gravel pits to limit access to developing lands. He said there were a lot of problems with woodcutters entering university land. The answer had been that was fine as long as there was a $5 million general liability policy. He asked for Wendy Redmond's recommendation. She responded that earlier bills had language that would protect the university. She requested that if the committee adopted an amendment, like this one, that would keep lands open for traditional use, they also provide liability protection. She did have draft language prepared. She added that the situations involving difficulty in access had all been cases where the university was actively using the land at the time people wanted to cut timber. Senator Gary Wilken asked what was the status of US Senator Frank Murkowski's efforts in Congress? Wendy Redmond replied that he was proceeding and expected to have hearings in the next month or so. He had been working directly with the Governor's office in Washington DC. to resolved their differences. The goal was to get a bill that would actually pass. Senator Al Adams noted that the University of Alaska had the statewide office of land mgmnt that generated approximately $9.6 million last year. "What was that money used for?" he asked. Wendy Redmond had a list of projects funded with those proceeds. About $4 million of total earnings went back into the office of land management for actual management and development activities. The balance went to support projects and programs that supported natural resource educational research and public service programs in the state. She added that in the future, the Alaska Scholars Program, that the university president recently announced, which would provide free four-year scholarships for the top ten-percent of every Alaska high school. That program will be funded with the proceeds of the natural resource fund. In the future, the majority of the proceeds would go to support that program. TOM ARMOUR, Manager, City and Borough of Yakutat, testified via teleconference from Yakutat. He started with a personal comment, that he supported the amendment requiring access for traditional use. As CBY Manager, he spoke about the long process of municipal lands selection, and requested it have top priority. He suggested a designated land surveyor be appointed at the Department of Natural Resources for this task. He asked that if the bill passed, that no more than 50 percent of selected land could be of the gulf coast region. Instead of a portion of revenues generated go to the nearest University of Alaska campus, he suggested those funds be given to the nearest local government. Again speaking for himself, he supported a strong central university in Fairbanks rather than a decentralized system. JANE ANGVIK, Director, Division of Lands, Department of Natural Resources, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. The department opposed SB 7, which was similar to several earlier bills vetoed by the current governors. The Administration was concerned about the affects of this legislation on the existing lands program. They were concerned with the difficulty it would cause the department to fulfill municipal land entitlements. SB 7 may negatively impact the development communities since the lands that could be selected included oil and gas and timberlands, which would affect state revenue. She testified that the bill would essentially eliminate the state's lands disposal program for at least ten years since the University of Alaska would most likely select the lands already subdivided and most suitable for future land disposals. She argued that this lands transfer process would be very expensive to implement and that money would be better suited to operate the university rather than in transferring the lands from one state agency to another. She stated that the Governor supported providing additional funds to the University of Alaska, had proposed legislation and sought recommendation that would earmark a portion of the federal revenues from the National Petroleum Reserve to fund the university endowment. She pointed out that the access issue was important and the department believed the University of Alaska lands were not public domain lands and they had the right to close those lands as a private landowner. Co-Chair John Torgerson asked how many acres did the division sell last year under lands disposal program. DICK MYLIUS, Resource Assessment & Development, Division of Land, Department of Natural Resources, listed the amount of lands sold last year as about 120 to 130 parcels at an average of five acres a parcel. In the last few years the program sold between 100 and 400 parcels a year. Co-Chair John Torgerson countered that his report provided from the department claimed only 237.3 acres sold in 1998. He clarified that the municipal governments had 600,000 acres had already been selected and was in the approval of patents stage. Jane Angvik commented that the process of conveying the lands to the municipal government was complex. Those 630,000 acres not yet conveyed were old and they had been working on them since 1964. She detailed the process. Co- Chair John Torgerson realized that and knew there had been some problems in conveying the land but it didn't bother him to tell the municipal governments to get it over with. His goal would be to put a protection in the bill but not give a blanket protection forever. Jane Angvik asked for clarification that the intent was to give priority of lands selections to the municipalities over the University of Alaska. Co-Chair John Torgerson answered that there was a proposed amendment to do that. LAMIA BOUZIANE, University of Alaska student, representing The Student Filmmaker's Club, The Political Awareness Club, and the Environmental Education Club, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. Her organizations had researched the University's land management over the past year and didn't believe that their current course of land management depicted higher education. They visited the Yakataga region to document clear cutting and land scribe activities and produced a documentary they would be showing on the University of Alaska campuses. They thought the students and faculty should have a bigger input. Senator Lyda Green asked what was her major. Lamia Bouziane answered French and History. She said the film documented the history of clear cutting and the opposition to the activities. She told of communities, a board of regents member and US Senator Frank Murkowski interviewed for the project. Everything in their research showed that this activity did not depict higher education. She spoke of mudslides and soil erosion. They wanted to tell the story to students because they thought they were removed from the problem and didn't have a chance to see it. Senator Lyda Green asked what year in school she was. Lamia Bouziane said she had already received History degree and was now working on a French degree. Co-Chair John Torgerson hoped the film showed some balance from a forester's point of view. The last video he had seen on mudslides had nothing to do with logging. Lamia Bouziane countered that they had interviewed Regent Henry and others. However, their conclusion remained that the practice did not depict higher education. Co-Chair John Torgerson said the only clear cutting he knew of in Alaska was in downtown Anchorage. He cautioned the group to define what they were doing and avoid being one-sided. Senator Pete Kelly pointed out that there wasn't any clear cutting in Alaska. He also noted that the co-founder of Greenpeace was a big fan of clear cutting. He spoke about the co-founder. CLIFF EAMES, of the Alaska Center for the Environment testified via teleconference from Anchorage. He addressed two issues: fiscal responsibility and the effect of this bill on the average Alaskan. The group supported High quality higher education and supported adequate funding for the University of Alaska but didn't think this was a wise way to fund it. He spoke to the significant revenue shortfall and said state resources should not be dedicated to a particular interest. Instead the resources should be husbanded and decisions made year by year on how revenues should be spent and generated. He pointed out the policy behind the constitutional prohibition against dedicated funds. He talked about the effect of transferring 250,000 acres of multiple use public land on the average Alaskan. He referred to a survey saying the public supported giving land to the University of Alaska. He felt this was an understandable reaction to the public's desire to adequately fund the University of Alaska. Tape: SFC - 99 #44, Side B However, if they thought more about the transference of public land, there would be significant opposition. He talked about the difficulty in choosing lands that the public could support transferring. He compared this with the earlier attempt to transfer 22,000 acres of land to the Seldovia Native Assn., which failed. He felt the Legislature should find other ways to support the University of Alaska. MIKE NAVARRE, Mayor, Kenai Peninsula Borough, testified via teleconference from Kenai. He opposed SB 7, because the Kenai Peninsula Borough had not finished its land entitlements. He wanted to dispel the notion that municipalities have been dragging their feet. There were a number of reasons for the delays. First, was the Department of Natural Resources had not selected or had been funded to select federal lands that might be transferred. He also said the department had its attention diverted time and again from the municipal entitlements with the Native Claims Settlement Act, the University Settlement Act, Mental Health Trust Settlement Act and now the school trust, in addition to proposals to set aside land for state parks and refuges. He spoke of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's attempts at making their land selections. He asked the committee to not do any more land transfers or land entitlements until the municipalities had a chance to select their lands. He didn't think the University of Alaska should be given special preference in the state budgeting process. HOLLY CAROLL, of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks in opposition of SB 7. Although the bill may have the good intention of raising money for the University, it would actually open up a quarter million acres of public land to be used by the University for aggressive, unplanned development with limited public oversight, she testified. It would allow the University of Alaska to circumvent the state land planning rules and promote resource extraction at the expense of habitat conservation and public recreation, which her group found important. They supported funding for the University, but felt there were better ways to finance higher education. Lands given to University of Alaska in the past have already been rapidly depleted of their timber resources. She spoke of the export of raw logs. She said they ignored local processing and local hiring opportunities. This bill would leave lower valued lands for the public. Selected lands would no longer be subject to the state's multiple use management strategies or public process requirements and would affect adjoining public and private lands as well. This bill threatened wildlife, recreation, tourism and local water sources because they could develop every acre with little regard of the consequence of its actions. She argued that although committee members said clear cutting didn't happen, that was a na ve view and it did happen. While the bill might seem to provide a monetary income to the university, it would cost the University of Alaska over $1.5 million per year to transfer lands from the state. PAUL MCINTOSH, representing himself, testified via teleconference from Ketchikan in support of SB 7. The University of Alaska was under-endowed in the beginning and needed the resources for long term income opportunities. He supported the management requirements of the bill. In fact he questioned the section on page 8, saying the University of Alaska shall prepare an annual plan for management and disposition of the lands under this section. He didn't see why that was necessary for just this section and suggested it should be required for the whole university system. He also supported the provision requiring 20-percent of the earnings going to the closest university campus closest to the land. This would help support the outlying campuses, which were critical to job training and transfer programs. DICK COOSE, representing himself, testified via teleconference from Ketchikan in support of SB 7 with the proposed amendments. He felt it was clear that the state was unable to make full use of its 100 million acres and this worked in other states. He felt the bill needed to be very clear in the purpose of the lands, which was to support the University of Alaska. He thought the committee should consider granting the university one million acres. He said it was important to protect the local communities' need for land. As a retired forester, he stated that clear cutting does not destroy the land. JIM BRENNIN, Attorney for the City and Borough of Yakutat testified via teleconference from Anchorage. He talked about the impact this would have on Yakutat. The bill would not actually protect municipal land selections, he argued. He spoke of the backlog in municipal land selections, attributing it mostly to under-funding of the Department of Natural Resources. He suggested adding a subsection 6 to page 5 that would take off the table for university selection, land subject to a pending application for municipal selection. He supported Senator Al Adams's proposed amendment as an alternative approach. He also wanted to add a Section 8 at the end of the bill. He asked the committee to consider what effect this bill would have on the incentive for future borough formations and their viability. He said the state was trying to encourage voluntary formation of boroughs to share some of the burden of government services. Co-Chair John Torgerson appointed a subcommittee to address the amendments and draft a committee substitute to incorporate their recommendations. He appointed Senator Pete Kelly, chair, Senator Gary Wilken and Senator Al Adams. Co-Chair John Torgerson ordered the bill held in committee.