Land transfer appeal upheld by court
On March 13 the Alaska Supreme Court upheld an appeal against the transfer of 250,000 acres of state land to the University of Alaska’s endowment trust. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Tongass Conservation Society had appealed the land transfer on the grounds that the transfer violates the dedicated funds clause of the Alaska constitution, a position that the court has now agreed with.
Legislation enabling the land to be conveyed to the university was passed in 2000 and 2005, with the intent of providing an additional source of income for the university. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the university have since been carrying out the land transfer, a process that the court decision will require to be reversed.
Tom Irwin, commissioner of DNR, expressed his frustration with the situation and noted that “the lawsuit was filed well after the Legislature acted and after the land transfers had begun, and the department and university spent substantial staff and consultant resources on land transfers that must now be undone.”
Some of the land earmarked for transfer is in the Nenana basin, where Rampart Energy Co, in partnership with Doyon Ltd., Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Usibelli Energy, is exploring for natural gas and plans to drill a well this summer.
James Mery, senior vice president for lands and natural Resources for Doyon Ltd, told Petroleum News March 18 that, although the land that had been earmarked for the university is close to where the Nenana basin gas exploration is taking place, the issues relating to the land transfer is unlikely to impact the exploration program. The exploration well planned for this summer will be drilled in Alaska Mental Health Trust land, he said.
“Our exploration group has a very good working relationship with the Division of Oil and Gas,” Mery said. “We were however looking forward to working with UA to assist them in fulfilling their objective to generate needed revenues for the university system.”