Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/30/2004 03:35 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 25-FLOODING AND EROSION CONTROL ASSISTANCE CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SJR 25 to be up for consideration. HAVEN HARRIS, staff to Senator Donny Olson, sponsor, read the following into the record: SJR 25 is a resolution requesting the Army Corp of Engineers ease their cost and benefit analysis for projects in rural Alaska. Senator Olson has proposed this resolution in response to many concerns voiced by his constituents with regards to the erosion and flooding problems that plague western Alaska. Currently many of the villages in western Alaska are not receiving the assistance needed for the protection of life and property. On November 8, 2003 a winter storm hit western Alaska. This storm caused considerable damage to Unalakleet, Shishmaref, and some of Nome's surrounding areas. While the governor has declared a state of disaster because of this storm, the continued effects of erosion on the villages of Alaska are not going to be solved by emergency disaster declarations. A more comprehensive, coordinated effort is required by the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state agencies. Our Senator's office respectfully urges your support for this resolution to focus attention on this serious problem. SENATOR JOHN COWDERY asked him to elaborate on easing restrictions. MR. HARRIS explained that the Army Corps of Engineers uses a cost benefit analysis that looks for a monetary gain or savings before any project can go forward. Unfortunately, there won't be a savings from any of the projects in these villages. But this problem isn't unique to this area; it's the situation in much of rural Alaska because the communities are so small. Nonetheless, even though there is no monetary gain, maintaining the resident's homes in these villages should outweigh the cost benefit analysis, he said. SENATOR COWDERY asked whether the Denali Commission is doing the same sort of thing. MR. HARRIS told him this wasn't within the scope of the Denali Commission. Referring to the General Accounting Office (GAO) report on Alaska Native villages, he noted that the Denali Commission was specifically identified as a possible entity to alleviate this problem. However, that isn't the case at this time. SENATOR COWDERY read the Denali Commission policy or objectives aloud: The commission is committed to accelerate the building of sustainable infrastructure in rural Alaska and to enhance the health and safety of rural residents and provide economic opportunity. The Denali Commission should be doing what is being requested, he said. MR. HARRIS replied they would very much like for them to be pushing in that direction, but that's not what is happening right now. Currently they are focused on making bulk fuel and energy reserves more affordable and to date have assisted a number of rural communities with building hospitals and health clinics. SENATOR COWDERY suggested that Senator Olson lean on the commission for assistance. CHAIR GARY STEVENS commented that he didn't believe that the Bering Sea is a part of the Arctic Ocean, but it might be a part of the Pacific Ocean. MR. HARRIS replied that he grew up in Nome and was always under the impression that the Bering Sea was an extension of the Pacific Ocean. He has always understood that the Chukchi Sea, which is just to the north of Kotzebue Sound, is an extension of the Arctic Ocean. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked if they believe that by including both the Pacific and Arctic Oceans in the resolution that the entire coast of Alaska would be encompassed. MR. HARRIS told him that was the intent. SENATOR BERT STEDMAN agreed with Senator Cowdery that the Denali Commission should be encouraged to become involved. MR. HARRIS said the Bush Caucus has made contact with the commission and specifically asked about their view on Shishmaref. With SJR 25, the effort is to lend immediate protection to these villages in their current location. Many villages in rural Alaska are facing erosion problems that require long term solutions, but this is to address immediate difficulties. ROBERT VALDATA from Seward wanted to put it on record that the Kenai Peninsula and Seward has an authorized flood control district and he was concerned about that area. CHAIR GARY STEVENS told him the GAO study identified 184 communities throughout Alaska that have potential flood and erosion problems. SENATOR GUESS suggested that the "Be It Resolved" portion of the resolution included all communities in the state that are dealing with erosion and flooding and are looking for federal assistance. CHAIR GARY STEVENS agreed. JULIANNE BALTAR, Kawerak Incorporated representative, from Nome spoke in support of SJR 25. She explained that her company is a Native non-profit consortium in western Alaska that has been providing assistance to Shishmaref on erosion and relocation issues. She told members that Kawerak takes issue with the cost benefit analysis requirement and they find the Corps of Engineers' cost- sharing requirement particularly unreasonable. Currently there is a request to do a Section 14 emergency shoreline protection project in front of the school in Shishmaref. The funds are limited to $1 million for federal share, but require a 35 percent cost share from the local community. If the community is unable to produce the money they won't be able to build the project. The Corps is now asking for $400,000 to $420,000 to build about 220 feet of seawall. If the wall isn't built, the school property is in imminent danger. Right now the teacher housing is between 12 and 14 feet from the eroding sand bank. Currently the ground is frozen and that's the only thing that is slowing the erosion. Another concern is that the Section 14 Corps program is only for public land. Even if the school property were saved, the properties on either side would be offered no help because there is no funding for them. In working in Shishmaref, they have found that no single federal agency is tasked to address erosion and flood problems in rural Alaska, which is why they support combining agency resources to address these problems. The Denali Commission is a large player, but they aren't currently funded to handle erosion and flooding problems. She suggested that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also adept at handling such situations. She reiterated her support of SJR 25. SENATOR GUESS made a motion to move SJR 25 from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.