The Bureau of Land Management has concluded public meetings in an Alaska study area it calls the Ring of Fire, which includes the Kenai Peninsula.
Seven meetings were conducted in cities from the Alaska Panhandle through Southcentral Alaska and Kodiak to gather public comments on the job the BLM is doing in managing public lands.
The bureau now will consider the information as it prepares a resource management plan and environmental impact statement due to be completed by the end of 2005.
Although the BLM does not manage much surface land on the peninsula, it is the federal agency responsible for managing subsurface minerals estate beneath national forests and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
What that means, according to Ring of Fire project manager Robert Lloyd, is the BLM decides whether or not the government should allow such mineral extraction activity as oil and gas production to be conducted in an area under its jurisdiction.
Currently the BLM has 61,973 acres on the peninsula under lease for oil and gas development through 33 leases and an additional 5,376 Kenai Peninsula Borough acres on the west side of Cook Inlet under four leases, according to Bill Diel, BLM geologist.
The remainder of land on the peninsula currently is closed to exploration and development for oil and gas and other minerals.
That could change, Lloyd said, if the BLM resource management study determines further minerals extraction is in the public's best interest. Or, the closed status could remain unchanged.
The Ring of Fire, which on a map actually looks like an arc, extends from the Canadian border in Southeast Alaska and includes the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Municipality of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kodiak Island, portions of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Island chain.
Lloyd said the area never has had a formal resource management plan or environmental impact study completed.
Federal law requires such study before resource management action can be taken.
The first step is to conduct the public scoping meetings, defined as "an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action."
Results of the public scoping meetings will be published "in about a month," Lloyd said recently.
He described public turnout to the meetings as "modest." No one attended the Kenai meeting.
"People look at the map (of the Kenai Peninsula) and don't see any surface BLM land," Lloyd said. "What they don't realize is that BLM manages the subsurface minerals estate under the national forest and under the wildlife refuge."
When the BLM completes its resource management plan, the document will be released for public review. Lloyd said that will be in late 2004 or early 2005.
During a 90-day review period, the BLM will conduct formal public hearings in the same cities in which the public scoping meetings were conducted, in order to gather comments on the plan.
People also may make comments on the project Web site: www.alaskaringoffire.com.
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