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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation that would potentially help in solving a significant unemployment problem in my home state of Alaska. Today, joined by my colleague, Senator MARK BEGICH, I reintroduce the Niblack-Bokan Mountain Mining Area Road Authorization Act to permit road access to two proposed multi-mineral mines on southeast Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.

Prince of Wales Island, formerly the main area for timber activity in Southeast Alaska, has fallen on hard times during the past decade. In 1990, when Alaska's timber industry in total harvested more than 1.1 billion board feet of timber, Prince of Wales was the center of activity. In 1994, for example, timber jobs accounted for 32.8 percent of all wages on the island. Six years later, with total regional harvests having fallen to about 350 million board feet, timber accounted for less than 19.8 percent of wages on the island, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Today, with total harvests of timber being just above 100 million board feet a year in the region, just 35 million board feet being harvested from federal lands in 2011 and just about 50 mmbf sold in 2012, and timber jobs statewide having fallen from about 4,000 to just over 400, Prince of Wales has been particularly hard hit. According to the State, timber jobs have fallen by more than 1,700 positions on the island.

As of November of last year, the unemployment rate on the island was ``down'' to 12.1 percent, compared to 13.8 percent in November 2011, partly because of the outmigration of some of the unemployed. Those rates are nearly 5 percent higher than the national average.

While the Viking Lumber Co. of Klawock remains the largest private-sector timber employer on the island, the island, the third largest in the United States, is badly in need of new employment opportunities. Fortunately today's high metal prices are encouraging a resurgence of mineral development on the 2,231 square-mile island.

Currently, Heatherdale Minerals of Canada is considering reopening the Niblack Mine, a gold, copper, zinc and silver deposit. The company is in advanced exploration and development study of the estimated 9 million-ton mine, forecast to cost $150 million to $200 million to reopen. The mine, likely to last at least 12 years, is forecast to produce 1,500 tons of ore per day and require 130 workers at the mine site, and another 60 to 70 at a processing mill, which could be located near the site, or perhaps in Ketchikan, AK, 40 vessel miles away.

The Niblack property is also close to another mineral deposit that is in the advanced stages of economic feasibility review, the Bokan Mountain Rare Earth Elements, REE, mine. Bokan Mountain, being considered for opening by Ucore Inc. of Canada, likely will employ 170 workers. It, too, will involve an investment of $221 million for the mine and processing plant to process the heavy rare earths, REEs, that the site contains. Both mines currently estimate they could be open within three to four years, depending on final economic reviews and current permit approval timeframes. Bokan Mountain is located about 28 air miles south of Niblack and can be accessed by boat by traveling down the relatively protected Moira Sound to the end of South Arm, or by an about 50-mile road that would branch off of a road to the Niblack mine.

The two mines could produce substantial numbers of high-paying jobs for the residents of southern Southeast Alaska. Niblack, for example, predicts the average salary for mine workers at its facility will be $80,000 a year, compared to the current median income in Craig of $48,594 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The problem of getting those jobs to people who need them is one of logistics.

There currently is no road access to reach either mine site, both likely to be supplied by boat from Ketchikan, AK. That means that potential workers on Prince of Wales Island will need to travel by boat or more likely by airplane to Ketchikan, in order to turn around and take a mine boat back to the island to report for work, a costly, time-consuming, often unpleasant and sometimes dangerous process given sea conditions in Southeast Alaska. Or they will need to pilot their own small boats to the mine site, a hazardous process given that reaching Niblack from the community of Thorne Bay to the north, a site that is located on the island's road system, will require a daily 60-mile one-way boat trip down perilous Clarence Strait, a difficult water body during fall, winter and spring storms, when seas can easily top 17 feet waves.

But the problem could be solved, if a road could be extended the roughly 29 miles to connect the Niblack mine, by means of existing logging roads, to the state highway system on the island. Such a road will involve at least 2.5 miles of logging road reconstruction and the construction of 26.3 miles of new road. Those roads, if built to existing logging road standards, are estimated to cost $7.075 million, the cost certainly rising if the roads are built to Federal Aid Urban Highway standards. The issue is that 18.3 miles of that new construction is across federal lands in the Tongass National Forest and, more importantly, across areas classified as inventoried roadless under the 2001 U.S. Forest Service roadless rule, as it was reimposed on the Tongass in 2009.

Looking at the topography of the area, located inside the Eudora inventoried roadless area, the road would begin at the Haida, Hydaburg, Native village corporation's West, Cholmondeley, Arm sort yard and head Southeast through the Big Creek Valley and climb to a mountain pass at the roughly 1,400-foot elevation. From there it will drop onto land owned by the Kootznoowoo Native village corporation of Angoon and follow existing logging roads that lie on the western side of the South Arm. The route then runs south and parallels South Arm on the west side until the southern end of the bay is reached. Then the route follows the shoreline of the south end of the South Arm until the far southeast corner of the bay is reached, the location of existing cabins and a State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish weir. From this point, there are two potential route alternatives: the 1A route continues to run in a southerly direction through a mountain pass of slightly more than 500-feet elevation passing two unnamed lakes. Once it reaches the shoreline of Dickman Bay, the road turns in a more easterly direction and runs across the south end of Kugel Lake and Luelia Lake, and the north end of Kegan Lake. From the 900-foot elevation pass on the west side of Luelia Lake, the route continues to run in an easterly fashion and must cross 1,200- and 1,400-foot passes before the route turns north to reach the Niblack mine at tidewater. That total route is 26.3 miles of new construction and a total distance of 28.8 miles. There is an alternative, Route 1B, early in the route corridor to reduce the elevation and add switchbacks required to reach the first pass, an alternative that would add 1.9 miles to the road.

There is another alternative route, Route 2A, that leaves from the same location and runs on the same route until the south end of South Arm. The second route then turns in a northerly direction and continues to follow the eastern shoreline of South Arm, Cholmondeley, for roughly 1.5 miles. The route then turns in an eastern direction and climbs through a mountain pass of about 900-feet elevation. From this pass, the route descends into the existing road system on Kootznoowoo lands near the south shores of Miller Lake. At the eastern terminus of these existing roads, the new route picks up again and continues in a southeast direction along the south end of Clarno Cove and Cannery Cove until Cannery Point is reached. From there the route turns into a southerly direction and climbs to another mountain pass of roughly 1,000-feet elevation. The route then follows the hillside to the west of Niblack Lake and meets another mountain pass of the same elevation and then descends in a southerly direction along the west side of Myrtle Lake to reach the Niblack Mine and tidewater. That route involves 24.6 miles of new construction, 6.1 miles of road reconstruction and involves a total length of 30.7 miles, thus costing more. It involves, however, constructing only one pass higher than 1,200 feet, compared to 3 on the first route, but may have more environmental impacts given its route along Cannery Cove and Niblack Lake.

An additional road, running to the Bokan Mountain mine, would branch from the Niblack road and then run south to the Bokan mine site.

I mention the two detailed routes, and the third branch route, only to indicate that substantial work has been done to select a potential road corridor to the Niblack/Bokan Mountain mines and to make clear that I am not prejudging the route with the fewest environmental impacts. I am leaving that to the Forest Service to decide after an environmental assessment or impact statement is undertaken. The legislation I am introducing simply says that the Forest Service should permit development of a road along one of the two routes and the third branch route, picking the route that both minimizes the costs, while also minimizing the effects on surface resources, prevents unnecessary surface disturbances and that complies with all environmental laws and regulations.

These roads, I need to point out, will not set a precedent in any way weakening the inventoried roadless rule's implementation in Alaska, regardless of how I feel about that rule. Under the original regulations governing roadless areas in Alaska issued by the Clinton administration in January 2001, Section 294.12(b)(7) permits roads to be built across inventoried roadless areas if needed ``in conjunction with the continuation, extension or renewal of a mineral lease on lands that are under lease by the Secretary of the Interior. ..... Such road construction or reconstruction must be conducted in a manner that minimizes effects on surface resources, prevents unnecessary or unreasonable surface disturbance, and compiles with all applicable lease requirements.''

The patents on the Niblack property and on the Bokan Mountain deposit certainly predate the creation of the roadless rule. The mines were discovered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Modest copper production occurred between 1902 and 1908 at Niblack and modern exploration on the 2,000-acre site began in 1974, some 150 patented claims being in place at the mine. Development/production on the uranium/REE deposits at Bokan Mountain began in the 1940s and continued through the 1950s.

The point is that Niblack and Bokan Mountain are certainly real prospects that offer the likelihood of real employment for many who are unemployed on Prince of Wales Island, if they simply can access the sites from their homes in Craig, Klawock, Hydaburg, Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Whale Pass and even Coffman Cove, located on the northeast end of the island. The need for these jobs has prompted the City Council of Craig to formally request Congress to accelerate the approval of a road corridor to the mines. Such a road could be built by the mines, but more likely funded and built by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities at state expense, not federal expense. A road could also allow a power line to be built to either or both mines, allowing non-carbon producing hydropower to power the mines, rather than them relying on expensive diesel generation for energy. That would reduce greenhouse gas production and benefit the environment.

It makes no sense in a state that already contains 58 million acres of formal wilderness, and in the Tongass National Forest contains nearly 6.4 million acres of parks and wilderness areas, to bar construction of a road that does not cross any wilderness areas but could provide a good income to more than half of all of the people, 281 people, unemployed on the island as of November 2012, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

I would hope that this Congress would look favorably on allowing these roads to this mining area, so that residents on the island can get the jobs they so desperately need in the years ahead.

By Ms. MURKOWSKI (for herself and Mr. BEGICH):

S. 182. A bill to provide for the unencumbering of title to non-Federal land owned by the city of Anchorage, Alaska, for purposes of economic development by conveyance of the Federal reversion interest to the City; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation to clear the title to three small parcels of land owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, AK, my home State, so that the land can be put to more productive uses in the future.

At different times between 1922 and 1991, Anchorage, AK, received a number of parcels of land from the Federal Government, including these three parcels of land, located in downtown Anchorage, comprising 2.65 acres in total. They were conveyed to either the former ``City of Anchorage'' or more recently the ``Municipality of Anchorage.'' They were transferred by the Federal Government to the local government for a wide variety of specific purposes, but all were transferred for the overarching purpose of helping the then nascent City of Anchorage, which was, and largely still is, surrounded by Federal lands, have sufficient land resources to provide municipal services to the growing community. For reasons that made sense decades ago, all of the deeds for these properties contain reversionary clauses, that should the land not be used for various general ``municipal purposes'' their ownership would revert to the Federal Government. The problem is that in each case, the tracts are no longer useful for the purposes originally intended, the lands are not needed by the Federal Government, the public purpose for which the reversion clause was put in place has long ago been fulfilled, and in case they were to be returned to the Federal estate, it would cost the Federal Government substantial sums to maintain the properties or prepare them for future sale.

These small tracts are not practical for the Federal Government to repossess for several reasons: the Federal Government is barely able to manage all the land it currently owns in Alaska, including in Anchorage, let alone adding small tracts to burden its responsibility. After more than 50 years since the Statehood Act, and 42 years since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act's passage, the State and our Native People still have not received final patent to all their lands. The public purposes for which the Federal reversionary clauses were put in place have been met. These clauses were added to insure that during its earlier, developmental stages, Anchorage would use the Federal land conveyed to it to build the city and the municipal and public infrastructure of the community. After decades of dedicated public use of these properties, the ``public purpose'' basis for the clauses has been fulfilled. For these properties, my legislation addresses the question of how long is long enough for a reversionary clause to have served its purpose, by recognizing that after decades of living up to its obligations under what are now outdated restrictions from the last century, it is time to let the City move forward with its vision for the new one. The commercial use of the properties will add to the public municipal treasury, and to the Federal treasury, hence continuing the public benefit of the lands, albeit in a different way.

In 1922 the City of Anchorage received a number of properties around Anchorage for municipal/school purposes. One of the properties was the 1.93-acre site in Block 42 downtown that since the early 1980s has been the site of the William A. Egan Convention Center. With the completion in 2010 of the larger Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, the tract is surplus to municipal needs, and could best be utilized for sale to the private sector that would then be best able to afford the cost of conversion of the property for future use, adding to the Federal income tax base and local property tax base.

The second tract is a lot of .48 acres at Seventh and I Streets downtown, currently being used as a municipal parking lot. The land, obtained by the city as part of a 1982 land exchange that cleared the site for a major office building across the street, is too small for municipal or Federal office space use, or for park construction, but might be properly sized for a commercial enterprise. It is zoned for business, but cannot be used for business that would contribute to the local property tax base or Federal income tax base, because of the inability of the Municipality to sell the property due to the Federal reversion clause.

The third site at the corner of H Street and Christiansen Drive, .24 acres in size and obtained by the city in 1963, again is too small for municipal or Federal office space, and unneeded for park space, but might be of use for a retail establishment given its location near a municipal parking facility. Likewise, it is zoned for business/commercial, but cannot be used and potentially contribute to the local and Federal tax bases due to the Federal reversion requirement. It currently sits vacant and idle.

In all cases, the best municipal use of the lands would be for sale to provide revenues to the Municipality of Anchorage that could be used for provision of municipal social services. In each case, reversion of the lands to the Federal Government would result in Federal ownership of tracts unneeded for Federal purposes, but lands that would produce greater conveyance and management costs to the Federal treasury than are likely to be recovered through fair market sales.

The Municipality of Anchorage and its Mayor Daniel Sullivan have asked that the reversionary clauses be repealed on the three tracts, the city absorbing all costs connected with surveying, recording and other costs connected with the properties. In these cases, lifting of the reversionary clauses on three of the literally thousands of acres conveyed to Anchorage, partially as a result of the Alaska Statehood Act, makes for good land use, and economic and public policy sense for both the local government and the Federal Government. The Municipality of Anchorage has already established 223 parks containing 82 playgrounds and 250 miles of trails, encompassing 10,946 acres inside its boundaries. There is no shortage of park and open space in the municipality. There is no public policy purpose in the 21st Century not to permit these very limited Federal reversion extinguishments.

Passage of this act would cost the Federal Government nothing, but would aid the citizens of Anchorage by allowing lands to be put on the city's tax rolls. I am introducing this bill now, joined by my Alaska colleague and former Anchorage Mayor MARK BEGICH as cosponsor, to foster action, hopefully, early in this 113th Congress.

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