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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


S. 3633. 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, in Alaska, my home State, so that the land can be put to more productive uses in the future.

At different times between 1922 and 1982, these three parcels of land, located in downtown Anchorage, comprising 2.65 acres in total, 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 price has long ago been fulfilled, and in any case, if 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 more than 40 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's 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 based 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 to allow plenty of time for everyone to review the merits of this bill prior to hopefully serious consideration of this issue in the 113th Congress.


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