Legislation proposes amendments to land claims act

Measures include options for Chugach Alaska to develop subsurface estate in Prince William Sound

Legislation proposing more changes in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, including possible options for Chugach Alaska Corp. to develop its subsurface estate in Prince William Sound, are up for discussion in Congress.

S.1493, which is included as Section 13 in a package of 15 bills included in the ANCSA Improvement Act, would direct a study of effects that federal land acquisitions have had on Chugach Alaska’s ability to develop that subsurface area, and options for a possible land exchange allowing the corporation to trade those holdings to the federal government in exchange for other lands or bid credits.

Under the 1971 ANCSA legislation land selections by the regional Native corporations included both surface and subsurface rights, but the surface estate for a portion of Chugach Alaska’s selection was acquired by the federal government as part of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council Habitat Protection and Acquisition Program.

The proposed study, under S.1493, would identify not less than 500,000 acres of economically viable federal land within or outside of Alaska that could be made available to Chugach Alaska in exchange for any land that the regional corporation identified as available for exchange.

The package of all 15 bills was introduced in late June of 2017 by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, and came before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining for testimony on Feb. 7. An aide to Murkowski said that following the hearing the bill would be pending at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Murkowski, and still need to be reported out by the full committee.

Chugach Alaska issues and the rest are contained within the umbrella package, https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=files.serve&File_id=5FA496F6-A0C3-4ABF-824F-89AE60D1D39F

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The senators said the bills included would correct oversights in the original act and respond to challenges ranging from erosion to incomplete land selections.

Another section of the umbrella legislation, S.1484, would create a mechanism for Sealaska Corp. to exchange its subsurface estate at Cube Cove within Admiralty Island National Monument to the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for other lands. That section has raised concern from the Center for Biological Diversity, which contends that possibly thousands of acres of Tongass National Forest could go to private timber corporations and another 50,000 acres of national wildlife refuge lands would be open to privatization.

S.1485 would allow Cook Inlet Region Inc. options from which to select land owed to it under ANCSA, while S. 1487 and S. 1490 would allow Kaktovik to select its remaining lands, Canyon Village to select lands at its original northeast location, and Nagamut to select lands closer to its residents’ traditional hunting sites or settle their land claims.

S.1491 would authorize urban corporations for Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee ad Haines, and more than 4,500 Alaska Natives whom the legislation says were unjustly left out of representation under terms of the original act.

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