Transfer of state land to university receives applause

What others say

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

It's difficult to believe, after so many years of contention, that the University of Alaska at last will receive a significant expansion of its land holdings.

Gov. Frank Murkowski made it official on Monday in Fairbanks, where he signed into law a bill to transfer 250,000 acres of state land to the university.

Land grants have a long history in this country, going back to the late 18th century. Yet the years of debating, and the vetoes by then-Gov. Tony Knowles, could easily have given the impression this was some sort of new effort aimed at unrestricted, reckless development of publicly held land. Fact is, not all publicly held land gets to be left in its natural state. Some of it — not enough, really — is there for the betterment of the populace, either directly or through its institutions of government and public education.

The coming land transfer will present the university, which to date has one of the smallest land grants in the nation, a variety of possibilities — oil and gas development and residential and educational use among them. Most of the land, about 200,000 acres, is in the Interior and includes a 90,000-acre parcel in the Nenana oil and gas basin that could bring the university a few million annually when developed.

So let's get on with it.

This legislation, introduced back in January at the request of the governor, untangles what had proved to be an unworkable and arduous process that had been set out in legislation approved in 2000 over the veto of Gov. Knowles. That bill laid out a 10-year time frame for the transfer of land but didn't spell out what land would actually be transferred, leaving that instead for the university to work out each year with the Department of Natural Resources, the Legislature and any affected local governments.

The 2000 legislation also read like a lengthy list of conditions from a reluctant participant: ''OK, you can choose this type of land, but not that kind of land, and if you choose this type of land, then you have to do this and that, and if you choose that type of land, then you have to do these things over here.''

What Gov. Murkowski signed on Monday was quite different. It was a nice, clean piece of legislation that spelled out the parcels that will be transferred to the university and in a far shorter period of time — by July 1, 2008. Yes, some people raised concerns as the bill was being debated down in Juneau, but the bill was amended in response to some of those concerns. Now, here we are — with additional acreage heading to the university and with the potential for more, this time from the federal government.

At last.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

July 26

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