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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation to provide a small interim conveyance of lands to the Sealaska Native Regional Corporation of Southeast Alaska, a conveyance designed simply to keep Sealaska in business for the next year or so to give this Congress sufficient time to consider a more comprehensive solution to the issue of how to complete the Native corporation's land conveyances authorized 42 years ago.

Several weeks ago I and my colleague Sen. Mark Begich reintroduced legislation first proposed in 2007 and 2008 to resolve problems with land conveyances to Southeast Alaska Natives, S. 340, stemming from passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Back in the 110th Congress there was plenty of time to resolve these land conveyance issues. Unfortunately as we begin the 113th Congress, the Sealaska Corporation has nearly exhausted its ability to use its lands in Southeast to benefit their shareholders in a socially responsible manner. This bill that we introduce today is a small stop-gap measure to give the corporation a one- or two-year additional supply of accessible lands to guarantee the continued operations of the corporation in order to give us and the House of Representatives additional time to again consider a more comprehensive settlement of Southeast Alaska Native land issues.

Today I am proposing legislation to grant Sealaska quick conveyance of the two smallest parcels of lands under consideration for conveyance to it as part of a broader land settlement revision. The parcels totaling 3,380 acres of the 68,000 acres proposed in the broader bill, include 2,000 acres at North Election Creek on central Prince of Wales Island, lands adjacent to existing Sealaska lands on the island, and 1,380 acres on the west side of the Cleveland Peninsula north of Ketchikan, lands also adjacent to Sealaska's current holdings. I am proposing interim conveyance of just these two tracts within 60 days of the act's passage, because to my knowledge there are few if any environmental concerns that have been raised with resource development on either tract. I am proposing to limit the conveyances to just these two to give Sealaska another year or two of existing operations to give time for the 113th Congress to hold new hearings on the Sealaska lands issue and to finalize and pass legislation. But by limiting the selections to just two small tracts, I am not lessening the urgency of the need for all parties to reach an agreement on the terms of a broader bill within the 113th Congress. If no agreement is reached on a broader bill, Sealaska will again be forced to curtail its operations with likely tragic consequences for Southeast's regional economy long before this Administration ends.

The bill, in an effort not to limit negotiations on a broader land settlement, makes no other changes, except to guarantee that all existing access provisions to lands required by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act remain in force on the two parcels proposed for conveyance. This bill is purely intended to give this Congress sufficient time to consider this issue while maintaining the economic status quo in the Panhandle--a fact that is vital for a timber industry, but also in order for the U.S. Forest Service to have the time and related infrastructure needed to implement its proposed young-growth transition strategy in the Tongass National Forest.

My hope is that this bill will promptly be considered and passed by this Congress, to give us all the time needed to reach an equitable solution to land issues in America's largest national forest.

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