Conservation groups optimistic about Afognak land sale

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2003

KODIAK (AP) Eighteen-thousand acres of North Afognak Island could be sold to Alaska State Parks for recreation and habitat management, despite earlier setbacks, according to conservation groups.

The sale would represent the last land acquired by the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement monies.

Gov. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, vetoed receipt authority for capital budget funds to acquire the land earlier this year. But conservation groups brokering the deal with Native landowners are optimistic in light of Murkowski's recent reversal of a similar land sale veto in Homer.

''We are encouraged by the governor's recent decision,'' said Tim Richardson of the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust. ''We are in a delicate phase with the governor right now.''

Richardson said conservation groups would make a one-time payment to the Kodiak Island Borough in lieu of tax dollars lost by selling the land to Alaska State Parks. The payment will be projected on tax revenue North Afognak land might have generated, Richardson said.

Kodiak Island Borough Manager Pat Carlson said continued support of the project was offered at the Chamber of Commerce meeting Monday.

The chamber passed a resolution supporting the land sale years ago. The borough assembly approved the project in May, with a caveat that the borough be compensated in lieu of tax dollars.

Political wrangling volleyed the deal back and forth between House and Senate Finance committees. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, gave it his stamp of approval.

Finally, the Alaska State Legislature approved the project, but Murkowski vetoed receipt authority for funds in the Capital budget for purchase of the land.

Had Murkowski approved the Afognak land sale, conservation groups including the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and American Land Conservancy, would have matched funds with more than $10 million to meet the $21 million sales tag.

Murkowski's reason for rejecting the Perenosa Bay Project was reluctance to lock up private land. However, last week, Murkowski reversed his veto of a Homer land sale after dealmakers convinced the governor the sale was beneficial to the state and community.

Supporters now are looking toward the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to restore funds already approved by the state legislature.

They are also hoping to garner Murkowski's support once he realizes the benefits of the project.

Richardson said 18,000 acres would be acquired at no cost to the state, and no effect on the Constitutional Budget Reserve. And $21 million would go into the hands of Native corporations and the local economy.

''It's really a win-win situation, for Kodiak, for everyone,'' he said.

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