Senate approves university land grant

Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2002

FAIRBANKS --The U.S. Senate gave Sen. Frank Murkowski a parting gift Wednesday night by passing a bill that could put 750,000 acres of land under the University of Alaska's control. But the deal could be stopped by just one member of the House of Representatives.

Murkowski had sought such a bill for more than seven years.

Late Tuesday night, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent in a package of 104 measures.

Wednesday morning, the objections started.

''Alaska is a national treasure chest of many gems,'' said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. ''If this dangerous bill becomes law, all Americans who value Alaska's spectacular wild places will lose.''

The bill now goes to the House, which holds its last floor session of the year on Friday. The House would have to pass the bill by unanimous consent as well because, according to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay's office, no recorded votes are planned.

If it doesn't pass, the bill dies at the end of the year.

Murkowski and university officials have long argued that the institution was shortchanged by the federal government when compared with other land-grant colleges. The university received 111,000 acres, less than the university for any state but Delaware.

Murkowski's bill would give the university the right to select an additional 250,000 acres of federal land. The bill would also set up a two-step process through which the university could secure money from oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

First, the university could try to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement with the secretary of the Interior and the state. The university could receive up to 10 percent of the annual revenues from oil leasing or $9 million annually, whichever was less.

If that didn't work, the university could select no more than 92,000 acres in NPRA.

The bill also calls for the federal government to match any state grant up to 250,000 acres, under the bill's terms.

Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed state legislative efforts to give state land to the university in the past, but he supported the federal grant.

Murkowski said in statement Wednesday that the bill had been tailored to address objections from environmental groups. To get the first 250,000, the university would have to give up about 10,000 acres of land it already owns within federal parks and refuges.

Also, the university would not be allowed to select any new land in such parks and refuges. It could select land in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska and the Chugach National Forest in Prince William Sound.

However, in the Tongass, the university would not be allowed to choose land from roadless areas or old-growth forest stands. In addition, the university would be blocked from selecting NPRA land near Teshekpuk Lake, a major waterfowl nesting spot.

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