Archive for the ‘land use issues’ Tag

Nevada Rancher Highlights Larger Issue   Leave a comment

Cliven Bundy’s fight with the federal government over his cattle grazing on public lands highlights a much larger issue than one Nevada cattle rancher and a bunch of beefs.

The federal government (illegally) claims ownership of 80% of the land in Nevada and substantial portions of most other western states. They have all sorts of arguments for why this is a good idea, but rancher Bundy shows why it isn’t. Like Alaska, when Nevada became a state, the citizens living there were promised that they would have access to the lands controlled by the federal government. Bundy’s family built their ranch with that contract in mind. They thought they were dealing with themselves. They thought if the federal government ever let the land for private sale, they would be given the option to buy it.

How do I know that? My grandfather and his brothers owned homesteaded land next to open grazing land in the Dakotas. My grandfather was a farmer with a small herd of dairy cows, so his use of open range was limited, but his brothers made wide use of it to build up cattle herds. There were ranchers in that area who had created a cooperative for the purpose of purchasing that land to continue as open range if the opportunity came about. Private cooperative ownership was what they expected, although I’m sure there were rich ranchers in other communities who thought they would buy the land for themselves.

Most of that area of the Dakotas is now locked up or requires expensive grazing fees. Yet the ranchers remember the promises. As Alaskans remember the promise that we would have access to the federal lands here in our state. Alaska actually had that in writing until the Statehood Compact was passed and then kept from us until after the plebiscite.

The ranchers and Alaskans thought they were dealing with their own government — their servant, not their master.

The federal government has replaced King George!

What are we going to do about it?

Road to Umiat   Leave a comment

The Foothills West Transportation Access project proposes to construct an all-season gravel road that will access oil and gas resources west of the Dalton Highway along the northwestern foothills of the Brooks Range, and within the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska (NPRA). The road would provide both exploration and development opportunities for the area as well as facilitate a more economically feasible NPRA development. 

The current project is being proposed to construct a road to Umiat. Umiat is an unincorporated community in the North Slope Borough, on the Colville River, about 140 miles southwest of Deadhorse. It is currently not accessible by road or rail, only by air or river. In 1944, the Naval Oil Reserve was set up and Umiat become an Air Force base, which is now closed. Bureau of Land Management and the United States Geological Survey use Umiat as a base for summer research into the impacts of climate fluctuations on the tundra. NPRA is managed by BLM. The road would provide all-season access for oil and gas exploration and development within the Foothills area and in the vicinity of Gubik Gas Fields and achieve a long-term goal of all-season access to the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska in this region.

Since the summer of 2009, DOT&PF has performed and contracted for engineering and environmental studies of potential road corridors west of the Dalton Highway and North of the Brooks Range. In September, 2010, DOT&PF requested an environmental document determination from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that initiated the formal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) proceedings to be led by USACE. USACE issued a Notice of Intent on this project on May 20, 2011 to begin preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the lead federal agency for the Foothills West Transportation Access project. USACE maintains a independent website for the Environmental Impact Statement. This website can be found at the following link:

The road has been moved under the guidance of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a public corporation of the State of Alaska, created in 1967 by the Alaska Legislature “in the interests of promoting the health, security, and general welfare of all the people of the state, and a public purpose, to increase job opportunities and otherwise to encourage the economic growth of the state, including the development of its natural resources, through the establishment and expansion of manufacturing, industrial, energy, export, small business, and business enterprises…” AIDEA does a lot of public-private partnership development. It financed the Red Dog mine road and port in the late 1980s, for example. AIDEA is working with Linc Energy, an Australian oil interest that wants to build an oil pipeline to a proven oil patch near Umiat.

Some of the communities in the area and the North Slope Borough oppose the east-west configuration of the road. Rather than taking the shorter route off the Dalton that would allow the Linc pipeline to follow a support road to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, they favor the “Meltwater” alternative, which would be a north-south route connecting Umiat with the existing industrial road and pipeline networks in the Kupakruk River and Prudhoe Bay fields.

The east-west alignments would cross land traditionally used by Inupiat people from Anaktuvuk Pass for “subsistence” hunting. I always say this – it is not subsistence hunting if you use a rifle, steel traps, snow machines or 4-wheelers that are purchased with money provided through the coercion of taxation from people who live elsewhere. I will also bring up, yet again, the provision of the Alaska Constitution that says that the resources are to be managed for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans – not just the people of Anaktuvuk Pass. They live close to the resource. “Sport” hunters, many of whom make less money from their jobs than the residents of Anaktuvuk Pass draw from Native Corporation dividends and public assistance, are at a disadvantage in accessing the resources. When we don’t get our moose or caribou, it means less money for fuel to heat our home. Living in the city and having an actual job does not mean you don’t rely on wildlife resources to make ends meet.

To understand what is at stake for those of us who don’t have our lives subsidized by federal and state entitlement programs and Native corporation dividends, you need to understand the history of the Umiat oil field.

First – Prudhoe Bay is running dry, but Alaska is a long way from being out of oil. Forget anything you may have heard in the liberal press. It just isn’t true. ANWR holds the best chance for a Prudhoe Bay-like find – there is estimated to be more than double Prudhoe’s reserves. There’s also the Chukchi Sea finds, which are estimated to be nearly three times the size of Prudhoe. Despite the fear-mongering, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is not … NOT … leaking and ready to fall apart. It receives regular maintenance. Running full is better for corrosion than running half-empty. With proper maintenance, the TAPS will be sound for 50 more years, if there’s oil in it. So, we have the oil in the ground and we have the pipeline. It’s simply a matter of getting the oil out of the ground and into the pipeline.

Umiat can do that. We’re talking at least 1 billion barrels of sweet, light crude at a shallow depth, proven by 12 legacy wells dating from the 1940s some of you may have heard Lisa Murkowski demanding that the feds clean up the “legacy wells.” That’s Umiat.

But ….

Umiat is 92 miles from the TAPS at its nearest point. It is 220 miles south of Prudhoe Bay. A 100-mile road makes a great deal more economic sense than a 200-mile road. Umiat has world-class potential, if it can be done economically. The Road to Umiat would provide access from the Dalton Highway west toward the Colville River to access a potentially monster oil field that also has significant natural gas deposits nearby.

Furthermore, there is Ambler to consider. That’s another post.

Is Alaska Really A State?   7 comments

Alaska has always had an uneasy relationship with the federal government. Even in the Territorial Days, we were prone to complain, rabble-rouse and throw food. We had some good reasons. The federal government bought Alaska for 2 cents an acre, then sold the inhabitants (Native and non-Native) to big business cartels. A big cartel “owned” the fishing industry, another “owned” the forests, still another “owned” gold mining … copper … the shipping lines … etc., etc., etc. The people who did the hard work rarely saw a real benefit from it. Growing up here in Fairbanks, I knew only one adult who had gotten well-off (rich would be an exaggeration) gold mining. I knew a lot of laborers, store clerks and tool-pushers who’d gold mined “back when” and now worked for one of the big companies that owned Alaska. The reason became clear as I grew up. They didn’t own the land they mined.

Statehood was not a horribly controversial idea, except that many Alaskans wanted to become a real state and not this pseudo-state-frozen-banana-republic that the federal government insisted upon. We wanted to break the power of the cartels and saw statehood as a way to remove the federal government from that relationship, allowing the people of Alaska to be at the negotiating table instead of our DC “papa” who never seemed to have our interests at heart. Growing up, I didn’t know many Alaskans who claimed to have voted FOR statehood, but somehow it passed twice. Most of the adults said the military swung the vote. Could be. The military and their wives accounted for a quarter of the population. It’s usually against the law for the military to vote in a plebecite, so maybe those votes were manipulated. It’s hard to know 50 years after the fact. It’s also possible that a lot of people voted for statehood when they didn’t really understand what they were voting for. They thought they were voting for a grown-up state status instead the neutered one they agreed to. Maybe later they didn’t want to admit they’d made a stupid mistake.

After the first vote, Congress rejected our application because they wanted us to structure the state a certain way. We complied. The Alaska State Constitution is a marvelous mix of the US Constitution and that of a socialist utopia. The federal government owns more than 60 percent of the ground in Alaska (an area larger than the state of Texas if consolidated). By virtue of its widespread, unconsolidated nature, the federal government controls access to over 80 percent of the land in Alaska. The State of Alaska and the Native corporations hold most of the rest. Only 3% of the land in Alaska can ever be in private hands (not counting Natiive allotments, which are not transferrable). Currently, less than 1% of the land in Alaska is privately owned. At the time of Statehood, the State was given 1.8 million acres and promised in the Statehood compact that we would receive a 90% royalty on all development on federal lands, but since President Carter used the Antiquities Act to lock up about 1/3 of all the land in Alaska there have been almost no royalty payments and much of the State’s lands are blocked by federal lands and BLM works hard to prevent access.

Needless to say, Alaskans talk about secession — a lot. Most of us don’t want war and we recognize that we’d be in big trouble if the federal government imposed a food embargo on us, so mostly it’s talk, but it’s heartfelt talk. We’re prevented from growing an economy by federal land and environmental policies and the oil on state lands is running out. What is a state to do? We don’t have the option of North Dakota or Texas where private landowners can lease to oil companies. The congressional Statehood Compact does not permit Alaskans to own their subsurface rights. If I find oil/gold/rare earth minerals on my land, it belongs to the State of Alaska — not me. The State of Alaska is required to manage that resource for the maximum benefit of the entire population of the state, so they would compensate me for the surface value of my land (valued at $20,000) and send me on my way. I’d see my oil back in a Permanent Fund Dividend of $800. Meanwhile, a big oil cartel would make millions or billions or trillions.

Has much really changed since Statehood?

And, they wonder why Alaska might want to leave the States United.

Posted September 16, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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