By Rick Smeriglio for SCN —
In a preliminary decision signed Jan. 6 by Alaska Department of Natural Resources section chief Bruce Phelps, state of Alaska said yes to some (but no to much) state land near Moose Pass and around the peninsula transferring into Kenai Peninsula Borough ownership. Although the public process of selection started years ago, KPB, its local advisory commissions and individual citizens now have 30 days to weigh in on the decision and pending transfer. The comment period ends Feb. 6. At a hastily arranged KPB meeting attended by about 27 citizens on Jan. 15 in Moose Pass, borough planning staff presented the case for specific state lands transferring to KPB ownership. No representative of the ADNR attended the meeting.
“This situation is unique to Moose Pass in that it’s the first processing of state land being conveyed to the borough in the area. Elsewhere in the borough we have already done this. For borough land around Moose Pass you only have the school site, the solid waste transfer site and a large lot south of the DOT facility,” said KPB land management officer Marcus Mueller. “Everything is on the table in Moose Pass because there is no background of Kenai Peninsula Borough land selection.”
KPB staff came to Moose Pass two years ago and presented maps showing that the borough proposed to select most of the remaining state land around town. After the Moose Pass Advisory Planning Commission held meetings and solicited public input, it recommended that the borough not select so much land, especially in remoter and steeper areas. The Mental Health Land Trust has already received title to considerable acreage of state land near Moose Pass. Borough records indicate that MPAPC on June 5, 2013, unanimously approved a scaled back version of the original KPB selections. Borough staff said that the maps displayed at Thursday’s meeting represent what MPAPC approved. The maps show that the borough no longer wants lands surrounding Upper Trail Lake.
Mueller said, “Recommendations of the MPAPC and comments from others led to the selections. We are looking for affirmation [of right selections] at this open house. We are looking for new information.”
Bruce Jaffa, chairman of the MPAPC said via e-mail that he objected to the short, 30-day period imposed by the state. He said that he informed borough mayor Mike Navarre and the MPAPC in writing of his objection. Three other MPAPC members attended the meeting. Member Ben Ikerd did not seem sure that the proposed selections reflected community wishes.
When asked if he approved of the selections Ikerd said, “I don’t think 30 days is enough time to judge; it’s just too quick. We’re [MPAPC] going to have to have another meeting to at least think about it.”
Mueller said, “The litmus test (I think it’s a fair one) is, ‘are these lands that the community would like to have under its advisory planning commission‘.”
When lands transfer to KPB ownership, local advisory commissions do not manage the land: KPB does. State of Alaska relinquishes management authority to the borough, which then manages the land under Title 17 of the KPB Code of Ordinances. The code provides for a public process to classify lands into 15 overlapping categories that allow for various uses and for outright sales. Code allows for classification changes and variances to accommodate uses that conflict with existing classifications.
KPB land management agent Dan Conetta pinpointed the issue when he asked, “The key question is who does the public prefer as the land manager, the borough or the state?”
State of Alaska rejected many KPB selections south of the Moose Pass core between Lower Trail and Kenai lakes. The state asserts that “a state interest exists that outweighs the interest of the borough in obtaining this parcel”. Parcel refers to numbered tracts of state land identified in the Kenai Area Plan of 2000 wherein the state gives guidance to land management agencies. The state has approved conveying lands around Bear Lake north of Seward, but rejected conveying land in Thumb Cove of Resurrection Bay. The stated reasons for rejection in the preliminary decision generally involve resource values.
“We don’t dispute that those values exist, but we don’t think that they preclude KPB selection. The problem with the KAP is that they are trying to impose their values on lands that would be municipal lands,” Mueller said during his presentation. “Is the state right or is it better to have these as community lands?”
After his presentation, Mueller elaborated his remarks to say that municipal code and the planning process could recognize resource values on those lands that the state rejected for conveyance to KPB.
Moose Passer Wendy Milligan said, “I don’t know if I want you [KPB] to have it until I know what you want to do with it. I’m not so sure. I don’t think the borough is the right entity to manage wildlife.”
Moose Passer Shannon Ryan said, “I almost want to know what the borough wants to do with it before I agree. What is the hope, what is the likely use? For instance, those steep mountainsides.”
Marcus Mueller thought that KPB could still get all its remaining land entitlement from other state lands on the Kenai Peninsula even if it did not get any lands that borough planning staff had identified for selection near Moose Pass because of their resource values.
The owners of local lodge expressed a desire to purchase a small amount of what could become borough land around their existing business at Summit Lake. The operators of a mine near Grant Lake above Moose Pass identified a large tract that they said could produce timber to support their mining.
While speaking to the issue of conflicting values, Mueller said, “We do see Moose Pass as the area most affected in the borough and the area we want to put most of our efforts into.”
The 1978 amendments to Alaska Statutes 29.65.010(7), entitled KPB to ownership of some 155,780 of vacant state land. While KPB has received title to most of that over the years, it still has about 27,000 acres of remaining entitlement left to receive. The current preliminary decision by state of Alaska proposes to convey about 16,053 acres of state land and rejects conveyance of about 26,585. According to Mueller, that rejection rate of 61 percent may change as KPB appeals the preliminary decision and argues for more parcels of selected state land. Additionally, another bout of land selection will open and KPB may file on lands that it seeks, but that the state did not consider in the current preliminary decision. Some of those selections include the “ball diamond” on Upper Trail Lake and Schilter Creek on Kenai Lake.
When asked if he had heard anything from citizens at the meeting that indicated affirmation of the proposed selections, Mueller said, “I haven’t heard differently.”
The Moose Pass Advisory Planning Commission currently has two vacant seats.