Sealaska nears completion of land deal in Defense act

Sealaska Inc. might finally be whole after the Dec. 3 announcement of a lands package agreement between the House and Senate.

The broad package of lands bills would allow the Southeast Native corporation to select about 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest for timber production and historic preservation, according to a release from Sen. Mark Begich’s office.

A release from Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the bill, which will be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, is a balanced approach to land management that would support economic growth.

Sealaska leaders have said for years the conveyances are critical to reviving the region’s fading timber industry.

The latest Sealaska land bill, submitted in February 2013, allocated slightly more than 70,000 acres to the corporation; acreage owed to it under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Sealaska Vice President and General Counsel Jaeleen Araujo said in an email that the company is thankful for the work that went into the bill.

“Sealaska is pleased that its land entitlement bill is included in the omnbibus lands package that is attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. We can now only wait in anticipation, along with the rest of the public, for further developments on the (act) as it moves through the process,” Araujo said.

Sealaska requested nine timberland tracts totaling 68,400 acres. Both Begich and Murkowski sponsored the bill, which omitted about 26,000 acres of selections from northern Prince of Wales Island that had been in previous versions because of concerns raised by conservation groups about timber harvest in the area.

“This package includes important provisions that will boost communities throughout our state, including the settlement and finalization of lands issues in Southeast Alaska; the conveyances of land for community development in Anchorage and at Wainwright,” Murkowski said in a formal statement.

Murkowski is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will chair the committee in the new Congress.

About 150,000 acres of the Tongass will be put into “protected status,” Begich’s release states.

“While this overall bill and this package are not perfect, through negotiation and hard work we have been able to move forward on development interests that advance Alaska’s economy,” Begich said. “This is a big win for Alaska and the regional communities in Southeast and Northwest Alaska.”

The federal government will also sell the Wainwright DEW, a former radar station on the North Slope, to the Olgoonik Corp. if the bill passes.

The legislation package was nearly six years in the making, according to Begich’s office. The first Sealaska land bill was submitted in 2007.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/18/2016 - 10:44am