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Alaska's Supreme Court Halts Transfer of Public Lands

Deb Spencer

Client Spotlight

"We're thrilled with the court's decision. Sale of this parcel to private ownership could have displaced our business and hundreds of fishermen who have used these waters as a safe harbor for decades."
- Deb Spencer
Owner, Shoreline, Inc.


An Old, Familiar Story -- Public Lands into Private Hands

In 2005, then-Governor Frank Murkowski pushed a land privatization bill through Alaska's legislature.  Under the guise of funding for the University of Alaska, the legislation transferred over 250,000 acres of state public domain lands to the University of Alaska. The University would have been required to maximize revenues from the land -- selling it for housing and commercial developments, logging it with most of the timber sold overseas, or disposing of it for other development that would be incompatible with existing public uses.

An Unconstitutional Dedicated Fund

The framers of Alaska's constitution recognized that earmarking state revenue, including revenue from land, for predetermined purposes is bad policy. Therefore, the Alaska Constitution specifically prohibits dedicated funds. In this case, the state Supreme Court held that turning over state lands and dedicating the revenue to the University violates that provision. The court ordered the University to transfer the land back to the State, where it belongs.

Funding the University While Protecting Public Land

Earthjustice and its clients believe that the University is a critical part of Alaska's future and support funding for the University. But locking up public land for development would ignore long-standing public uses of these lands and would cover only a fraction of the University's budget. For something as important as education, direct funding is a better solution than a controversial land giveaway.