Gov. Bill Walker has signed into law a piece of legislation pushed by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, to ease land swaps between the state and private individuals.
House Bill 274 allows the state some flexibility when it comes to those swaps. As a result, the state will be able to complete a long-planned takeover of the trail that leads to Point Bridget State Park, north of Juneau.
“This is the sort of a model that I wish the federal government had,” Walker said before signing the bill.
Currently, the sole public access to Point Bridget crosses land owned by Echo Ranch Bible Camp. The ranch has permitted that access — a well-maintained trail crosses the land — but since at least 2001, it has tried to exchange the land occupied by the trail with nearby land owned by the state.
According to documents from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the state would offer 37.93 acres of the park for 59.89 acres of Echo Ranch land. According to an appraisal conducted in 2015, the state land is worth $4,000 per acre and the Echo Ranch land is worth $2,500 per acre, accounting for the differing amounts of exchanged territory.
Each side in the arrangement will receive about $150,000 worth of land.
The state had been stymied in its swap by regulations that required an appraisal to determine that the swapped parcels were worth precisely the same amount. The appraisal was only good for one year, however, and the state could not navigate the process of public comment and public hearings in that timeframe. That led to the swap’s repeated failure.
“It was a win-win situation if we could just get it through,” said Gary Jenkins, an Echo Ranch board member who attended Wednesday’s bill signing ceremony. “Thanks to Cathy, we’re almost there.”
A public hearing has already been held on the swap at Centennial Hall — no one attended — and public comments are being accepted through Sept. 6 at email@example.com.
If all goes as planned, said Ed Fogels, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Point Bridget swap will be complete by the end of the year.
HB 274 may also allow other, similar swaps across the state. One prospect is the Pile Bay-Williamsport Road, which connects Cook Inlet to Iliamna Lake. Native lands underlie some of that state-owned road.
Across the state, Fogles said there are opportunities for the state to smooth out boundaries where selections made under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and Alaska Statehood Act created problems.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at 523-2263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AK_OK.
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