Alaska Supreme Court rejects
University land transfer
Southeast Alaska communities
relieved and support other ways to fund university
March 16, 2009
The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday reversed a superior court
decision that allowed the transfer of state land to the University
of Alaska as a way of funding the university. The ruling keeps
about 200,000 acres of state land under public ownership instead
of allowing it to be transferred to the university which would
have been required to use it to maximize revenues.
"A lot of Southeast residents called us concerned that the
lands the state wanted to give away are lands that local communities
use for recreation, cultural and traditional uses," said
Mark Gnadt, communications coordinator for the Southeast Alaska
Conservation Council (SEACC). "There are better, more direct
ways to fund the university."
Although most of the acreage to be transferred would have come
from a few large parcels in Southcentral and Interior Alaska,
the majority of the individual parcels were scattered throughout
Southeast Alaska. Many people in Southeast were concerned that
the university could restrict their access to the land and limit
their input on land management decisions.
"Mite Cove is a very popular destination for local boaters,
kayakers, and hunters, and I am concerned that any development
of the cove would restrict public access," said Roman Motyka
of Juneau who has kayaked, fished, hunted and hiked on and around
Yakobi Island for over 30 years.
"I'm relieved at the Court's decision. While I certainly
support full funding for the university, taking parcels from
a few people's back yards puts an unfair burden of paying for
the university on the backs of just a few Alaskans," said
Deb Spencer of Pelican.
Alaska's constitution prohibits state revenues from being dedicated
to one cause without the legislature determining it is the most
pressing need for those funds. The Court agreed with SEACC that
by declaring that the income from specific state land must go
to the university, this transfer violated that part of the state
"This decision confirms what the framers of our state Constitution
understood-funding a cause, no matter how worthy, through dedicated
land revenue is bad policy," said Kate Glover, an attorney
"Land sales are an inefficient and inadequate means of funding
the university," said Carol Cairnes, president of the board
of directors of the Tongass Conservation Society based in Ketchikan.
"We support direct, full and legal funding for the University.
Now more than ever, the University is one of Alaska's most important
economic engines for the 21st century," said Gnadt.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Southeast Alaska
Conservation Council and the Tongass Conservation Society in
2007 after the Murkowski administration pushed the controversial
university lands bill through the legislature. Plaintiffs did
not oppose the transfer of a 51,000 acre research forest to the
University in the same legislation.
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