Environmental groups remain opposed to UA land grant bill

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska environmentalists remain opposed to a bill that would give 250,000 acres in federal land to the University of Alaska.

A bill with the provision, a goal that Sen. Frank Murkowski has been pursuing for seven years, passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

''I think that is the ultimate way to address the future needs of the university (and) maintenance of the university,'' Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday.

But there are only days left for this Congress, and controversial bills may not make it to the Senate floor.

Environmental groups oppose the bill because the university could select valuable forest lands and log them.

''It's the same old, warmed-over bad idea,'' said Tim Bristol of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

The bill would give the university the right to select 250,000 acres of federal land not contained in parks or refuges. To appease environmentalists, the bill would not allow selections in old-growth forests.

In return, the university would give up 11,000 acres it owns within parks and refuges.

The bill would allow the university to select another 250,000 acres of federal land if the state matches the acreage.

The prospect of the university receiving up to 750,000 acres troubles Bristol.

''I particularly worry about the Chugach'' National Forest, he said. ''Maybe it's logging. Maybe it's cherry-picking around Prince William Sound for hotels. All those are worrisome.''

That's an unfathomable position to Murkowski.

''Alaska's got to understand this is what we're up against (that) anything of a development nature is objected to by the national environmental groups,'' Murkowski said.

Joe Beedle, UA vice president of finance, said the university's first choice would be land with oil or gas potential. However, the bill would limit selections in the National Petroleum Reserve to 92,000 acres or no more than $9 million a year in revenue.

The second choice, Beedle said, would be real estate that had potential for housing subdivisions or recreation.

It would also look in Southeast for second-growth forests, he said.

The university already has about 170,000 acres of investment property.

Bristol claimed the university has not been a good steward of the land it has logged.

''What the university has done in Icy Bay and Icy Cape north of Yakutat is an absolute mess,'' Bristol said.

The state temporarily shut down logging at Icy Bay in 2000 because a roadbed was sloughing material into streams. Last year state inspectors found oil and antifreeze leaking into fish streams.

Beedle took umbrage at the suggestion the university does not oversee its timber contractors properly.

''In most cases we police ourselves more than what the private sector would do,'' he said.

The university has spent a lot on cleanups and is leading the way in finding out which companies are responsible for damage in the area, which was logged for 30 years before the university got there, he said.

Its own environmental assessment contractor found an illegal burn and notified the state enforcement agency, he said.

Murkowski picked up enough Democratic votes to pass the bill by temporarily bundling it with a Democratic measure that would protect land in Washington state. The bundle also included a Murkowski bill that would allow the city of Craig to buy an old cannery in the town center in exchange for property that would go to the Forest Service.

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