The university land grant approved in the last session of the Alaska Legislature adds a new twist to the debate over Kenai Peninsula Borough land selections from the state.
Senate Bill 7 entitles the University of Alaska to select from 250,000 to 260,000 acres of land from state holdings across Alaska.
In the Kenai Peninsula, both the university and the borough will select from the same pool of land identified as available for disposal in the state's Kenai Area Plan, said Bruce Talbot, project manager for the Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water.
The bill does make land previously selected by the borough unavailable for university selection. In addition, it requires the university periodically to submit lists of proposed selections to the Legislature for approval. Once the university submits a list, the borough has 120 days to claim any parcel on it.
But while the borough requires just 44,000 acres to complete its entitlement from the state, it already has proposed selections totaling nearly 100,000 acres, Talbot said. Meanwhile, the borough has communicated its intent to relinquish some selections and add others. It has challenged the Kenai Area Plan in Alaska Superior Court.
"We anticipate in instances, like with the borough now, where they are way over-selected, that the university may say, 'The borough cannot endlessly tie up land we're entitled to,'" Talbot said.
The Department of Natural Resources already has a policy limiting a municipality's proposed land selections to its remaining entitlement, plus 10 percent. It proposes writing that into regulation.
Because of special circumstances in the Kenai borough -- previous university land selections, the transfer of some state land to the reconstituted Alaska Mental Health Trust and the lack of a good audit of proposed borough selections -- the state has cut the borough some slack, Talbot said.
He said the borough now has completed an audit of its existing selections. As far as he knows, it is the only municipality whose proposed selections exceed its remaining entitlement by more than 10 percent. That could affect its ability to propose new selections.
"The university is likely to complain that the borough is way over-selected and should not be allowed to keep filing selections over the entitlement-plus-10-percent rule," Talbot said.
He said the state has encouraged the borough to determine which land it most wants so the state can begin making conveyances. Until the borough prioritizes its selections, he said, the state is reluctant to start the work on conveyances. It might waste considerable time on selections the borough ultimately will relinquish.
Borough Planning Director Robert Bright said the passage of Senate Bill 7 is a matter for concern. The administration has brought the issue of land selections before the assembly several times, he said, and he expects the administration will recommend relinquishing some selections.
Because the borough has challenged the Kenai Area Plan in court, Bright said, he could not comment on efforts to prioritize proposed borough selections. The borough's priorities could change depending on the outcome of the appeal, he said.
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