Southeast community of Craig looking to land grant to raise money

Posted: Monday, May 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Prince of Wales Island community of Craig has a problem and it's looking to Congress for help.

Craig is believed to be the fastest-growing town in Alaska. Its population jumped 10-fold, or to more than 2,500 over the past 25 years or so.

But most of the land in the community is owned by Native corporations, and it can't be taxed unless it's developed. So Craig can't raise the necessary property taxes needed to support city services and local schools.

''I'm deeply concerned about the long-term survival of our community,'' Mayor Dennis Watson told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in February.

Craig is asking Congress for a 4,560-acre land grant from the Tongass National Forest that it can use to raise money. It might cut some of the trees, sell portions of it off or lease a few areas for lodges -- anything that would put cash in the bank.

Craig wants about $10 million for an endowment that would generate enough interest to support city services, like hiring staffers for the new high school scheduled to open next year or to back bonds for a desperately needed firehouse, Watson told the Anchorage Daily News last week.

But Craig figured Congress probably wouldn't just hand over $10 million, especially since the community recently received $3 million in disaster money for Southeast Alaska logging towns via Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

So rather than going cup in hand again, Craig sought a land bailout.

The U.S. Forest Service agrees that Craig has a problem and has agreed to help if it can.

But giving away forest is not a good response because, as Forest Service lands director Jack Craven testified, ''it provides no compensation to the American people for the 4,560 acres to which they would lose both ownership and access.''

The measure sat gathering dust until Sen. Frank Murkowski came up with a compromise.

The Alaska Republican, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Congress would give the Forest Service the money it wants to buy up private property inside conservation areas of the Tongass in exchange for giving Craig the land.

Steve Ambrose, who handles Tongass matters at the Forest Service in Washington, would acknowledge only that ''there are discussions going on.''

Tongass managers have been hoping for years to find enough money to buy private lands inside the Admiralty Island National Monument.

Those lands are owned largely by the Shee Atika Native corporation and are pretty much logged over.

So in trade for giving Craig 4,560 acres of uncut forest, Tongass managers would get money to buy logged land on Admiralty Island.

The legislation has cleared the Senate and is pending in the House.

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