State to transfer Hatcher Pass Land to borough

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State officials have agreed to give the Matanuska-Susitna Borough title to more than 3,000 acres of land in Hatcher Pass, over the objections of some local residents and wildlife officials who say the transfer could damage the environment.

Borough officials want the land, in the foothills of Hatcher Pass, because they say borough ownership would make it easier to develop a proposed ski area. The land has long been eyed as a site for a resort village, if the ski area is ever built.

''It just makes it so much easier for us to have control of the land because we can talk directly to the developer,'' said Borough Manager John Duffy.

But those opposed to the land transfer say the borough might not provide adequate protection for the area, which includes key wildlife habitat.

Moose, bears and wolves frequent the area. Streams that feed into the Little Susitna River provide key silver salmon rearing habitat, said Ellen Simpson, a habitat biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game.

The decision to transfer title, issued by the state Department of Natural Resources this week, can be appealed to DNR commissioner Pat Pourchot. If there is no appeal, title would transfer to the borough early next year.

Under state ownership, any development on the land must comply with the Hatcher Pass Management Plan, a state land plan adopted in the 1980s. The plan sets goals and development guidelines that range from wildlife corridor buffers to how to keep bears out of trash collection sites, Simpson said.

The Borough Assembly passed a resolution saying it intended to comply with the plan. But opponents say the resolution carries little weight.

''It's all the best intentions, and when a new Assembly comes on line, what happens to that resolution?'' said Kathy Wells, a local opponent of the transfer. ''There's no guarantees.''

Herman Griese, a state biologist based in Palmer, said he worries the borough would sell and develop the land, costing the region another key piece of wildlife habitat.

''The concern is that this area is really important for moose and other wildlife,'' he said.

Duffy, however, said the borough would make sure the rules are followed.

Officials plan to adopt a special land-use district for the area, which would include enforceable guidelines on how it will be developed. Borough officials also are negotiating an agreement to ensure that state park rangers continue to police and manage the area as they do now, he said.

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