Legislation takes park creation out of hands of administration

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Legislation introduced last month could severely restrict additions to state parks.

House Bill 159, introduced by District 28 Rep. Beverly Masek, R-Willow, co-chair of the House Resources Committee, would reduce the size of additions the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources could establish from 640 acres, or one square mile, to 40 acres, or one-sixth square mile.

In Masek's sponsor statement, she compared the Knowles administration to former President Clinton's administration in regards to land acquisition.

''The Clinton administration's unabashed use of executive authority to lock up lands for special interest groups clearly demonstrates how the will of the people, as represented by the legislative branch, may be thwarted by a single individual,'' she wrote.

Masek's chief of staff Eddie Grasser says the target of the lawmaker's bill is preservation of Hatcher Pass, a popular snowmachining area near Willow.

Parks' Chief of Field Operations Pete Panarese said a portion of Hatcher Pass was set aside for telemark skiing in 1996 -- about 700 acres. That was done in 1996, before Senate Bill 35 set the limit to 640 acres.

In his analysis of HB 159, director of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation Jim Stratton wrote, ''We are unaware of any problems with the 640-acre limit and feel that 40 acres significantly limits the administration's ability to meet the needs for increased recreational access, provide for outdoor recreation facilities like campgrounds, boat launch ramps, trails and trail heads and meet the requirements necessary for Alaskans to safely recreate in areas where use is concentrated.''

However, Grasser said 40 acres is large enough, and the current administration has been abusing the state's Interagency Land Management Agreement.

''We researched the amount of land (used in ILMAs), and prior to Knowles, they were 40 acres or less,'' Grasser said. ''Since Tony, they've zoomed up to 600 and 300 acres.''

HB 159 currently is in the House Resources Committee and is set for a hearing later this month.

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