Murkowski Proposes Southeast
Initiative to Aid Regional Economy
Effort Includes Timber Industry
Retooling and Landless Native Compensation Bills
April 02, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today
introduced two bills designed to stimulate the economy in Southeast
Alaska, a region of the state that has been hard hit by the downturn
in timber-related jobs.
The two bills are:
- The Southeast Alaska Timber
Industry Retooling and Restructuring Act to help firms retool
to maintain jobs in the region.
- The Unrecognized Southeast
Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act to
set up urban corporations for Natives in Ketchikan, Wrangell,
Petersburg, Tenakee and Haines.
In addition to the two bills
introduced today, Murkowski announced that she will add to her
Southeast legislative initiative with the introduction of two
other bills following the upcoming Easter congressional recess
a Sealaska land settlement proposal and a measure designed
to increase federal funding for new ferries and terminals.
Murkowski pointed to a recent
Juneau Economic Development Corp. study by the McDowell Group
that found that the Southeast Alaska regional population is declining
and aging. The study found the average age of Juneau residents
was 38.1 years six years older than the state as a whole.
The region also is losing private sector jobs, with 37 percent
of the employment and 42 percent of all wages now coming from
the public sector.
"The Southeast region has been hard hit by the downturn
in the timber industry, by a growing decline in state government
employment and by a potential decline in tourism," Murkowski
said. "The region also is seeing a decline in population.
It is time that we work to reverse these trends by offering a
comprehensive federal program to settle Native land ownership
issues and deal with declines in the timber industry."
Following are details of the legislation introduced today:
Southeast Alaska Timber Industry Retooling and Restructuring
Joined by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, as chief co-sponsor,
Murkowski introduced legislation to help the Southeast Alaska
timber industry modernize by moving into new types of timber
operations as a way of stimulating employment in the Panhandle.
The bill would authorize up to $40 million in grants to long-time
timber and timber-related companies in Southeast Alaska to help
them either move into modern value-added processing or perhaps
to take advantage of new non-timber economic opportunities.
"Given what we have seen in recent years as far as the price
and availability of timber to our Panhandle mills, it is vital
that we aid the industry to find innovative ways to make new
products and develop new ways to provide year-round employment
to Southeast's workforce. Given that the federal government has
been a prime reason for the slowdown in timber activities, it
is only right that it take the lead in providing assistance to
get this struggling industry moving again," said Murkowski.
"Communities in Southeast Alaska have been hurting for years.
Today's economic crisis has made it even harder for
timber-based small businesses to survive," Sen. Begich
said. "This bill will help the timber industry retool so
they can be competitive and help ensure that we have a diversified
economy in Southeast for decades to come."
Murkowski noted that back in 1954, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
encouraged the development of a sawmill and pulp mill timber
industry in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast. From the
startup of the pulp mills in Ketchikan in 1954 and in Sitka in
1961 to passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation
Act in 1980, the Tongass was producing about 600 million board
feet of timber a year, generating 3,500 direct and 2,500 indirect
jobs and providing the largest number of year-round jobs in the
But following passage of ANILCA and the follow up Tongass Timber
Reform Act of 1990 the two pulp mills closed in the mid 1990s,
and sawmills have tried to survive on the once anticipated 268
million board feet a year of allowable timber harvest. But a
litany of federal forest policy changes from the Clinton-era
roadless policy, to changes in Forest Service sale and road policies,
to sale delays caused by litigation have resulted in harvest
levels falling to 28 million board feet from federal lands and
less than 50 million from private lands in 2008. That harvest
level is far below the 192 mmbf reached in 2006 and about half
of the 144 mmbf of 2007. Recent years have been drastically down
from the 495 million board feet harvested from all lands as recently
Year round timber employment, according to U.S. Forest Service
in 2007, the last year of current full data, was 402 jobs, just
13 percent of the employment of a decade earlier. The impacts
on the region's economy have been clearly documented. According
to a report by The McDowell Group consultants, total timber-related
payroll in 2007 hit just $17 million, compared to $300 million
in 1990 helping to cause higher unemployment rates in the region.
The timber retooling act would call on the federal government
to acknowledge its role in the reduction of economic activity
in the region. By the act, the government would on a one-time
basis, allow the Secretary of Agriculture to provide economic
development assistance/grants to allow existing timber facilities
to retool either to adopt new timber production practices that
can operate profitably on smaller harvests or to convert timber
plants to new types of manufacturing/business operations.
Firms sawmills, logging companies and road construction
companies involved in timber work for at least a decade -- that
seek funding for "retooling projects" must submit business
plans and demonstrate the likelihood of success. More importantly
they must commit to the "extent practicable" to continue
to employ substantially the same number of employees for a "reasonable"
period after completion of a retooling project. To limit the
impact of the aid, grants may only go to businesses that operated
in the Tongass for not less than 10 years prior to Jan. 1, 2009.
And the program sunsets within two years with the maximum authorization
of aid being $40 million.
The bill would allow companies that used to build Forest Service
timber roads, for example, to buy more appropriate equipment
to bid on federal highway work and water and sewer line work.
It could help firms move into sand and gravel operations. It
could allow sawmills with water access to be converted to marine
repair facilities or into wood treatment plants. And it might
allow some mills to convert to higher value-added products requiring
less raw materials, such as door and window sash manufacturing.
Firms would not have to give up on future timber operations in
order to gain the aid, once sale levels are stabilized and market
conditions improve, the hoped for outcome of the current Tongass
Roundtable timber discussions.
"These changes may ease environmental pressures on timber
stands, while aiding the region's economy by helping to replace
the former year-round jobs in a region now nearly solely dependent
on fishing, tourism income and government-sector spending, for
employment. At a time when Congress is spending nearly $800 billion
to stimulate employment, this measure is a reasonable expenditure
to help potentially transition employees to 21st Century jobs,"
Landless Natives/Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities
Recognition and Compensation Act:
Murkowski introduced this bill in an effort to right the inequity
that Native residents in five villages in Southeast -- Ketchikan,
Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee and Haines -- were the only Alaska
Natives not to benefit from the operation of both regional and
village or urban corporations when the lands claim settlement
"Nearly 38 years have
passed since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act became law
and still the Native peoples of five communities in Southeast
Alaska -- the five 'landless communities'' -- are still waiting
for their fair and just settlement. It is long past time that
residents in these communities receive the same benefits that
all other villages received. It is a simple matter of fairness,"
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement
Act awarded $966 million and 44 million acres of land to Alaska
Natives and provided for the establishment of Native Corporations
to receive and manage such funds and lands. The beneficiaries
of the settlement were issued stock in one of 13 regional Alaska
Native corporations - 12 based in Alaska. Most beneficiaries
also had the option to enroll and receive stock in a village,
group or urban corporation.
Murkowski said that for reasons
still unclear, the Native peoples of the ``landless communities''
were not permitted by ANCSA to form village or urban corporations.
The communities were excluded from the benefit even though they
did not differ significantly from other communities in Southeast
Alaska that were permitted to form village or urban corporations
under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
For example, Ketchikan had
more Native residents in 1970, the year of a membership census,
than Juneau, which was permitted to form the Goldbelt urban corporation.
This finding was confirmed in a February 1994 report submitted
by the Secretary of the Interior at the direction of Congress.
That study was conducted by the Institute of Social and Economic
Research at the University of Alaska.
Under Murkowski's bill, Natives
in the five towns will be able to form "urban" corporations.
The corporations would be offered and could accept the surface
estate to 23,040 acres of land one township as granted
to all other village corporations. Sealaska Corporation, the
regional Alaska Native Corporation for Southeast Alaska, would
receive title to the subsurface estate of the designated lands.
The urban corporations would
each receive a lump sum payment ($650,000) to be used as start-up
funds for the newly established corporations. The Secretary of
the Interior would determine other appropriate compensation to
redress the inequities faced by the unrecognized communities,
potentially including access to a federal surplus property ownership
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