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Alaska Supreme Court Upholds Constitution, Rejects University Land Transfer

Victory: Southeast Alaska communities relieved and support other ways to fund university
March 13, 2009
Juneau, AK —

The Alaska Supreme Court today reversed a superior court decision that allowed the transfer of state land to the University of Alaska as a way of funding the university. The ruling keeps about 200,000 acres of state land under public ownership instead of allowing it to be transferred to the university which would have been required to use it to maximize revenues.


"A lot of Southeast residents called us concerned that the lands the state wanted to give away are lands that local communities use for recreation, cultural and traditional uses," said Mark Gnadt, communications coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC). "There are better, more direct ways to fund the university."


Although most of the acreage to be transferred would have come from a few large parcels in south central and interior Alaska, the majority of the individual parcels were scattered throughout Southeast Alaska. Many people in the southeast were concerned that the university could restrict their access to the land and limit their input on land management decisions.


"Mite Cove is a very popular destination for local boaters, kayakers, and hunters, and I am concerned that any development of the cove would restrict public access," said Roman Motyka of Juneau who has kayaked, fished, hunted, and hiked on and around Yakobi Island for over 30 years.


"I'm relieved at the court's decision. While I certainly support full funding for the university, taking parcels from a few people's back yards puts an unfair burden of paying for the university on the backs of just a few Alaskans," said Deb Spencer of Pelican.


Alaska's constitution prohibits state revenues from being dedicated to one cause without the legislature determining it is the most pressing need for those funds. The court agreed with SEACC that by declaring that the income from specific state land must go to the university, this transfer violated that part of the state constitution. 


"This decision confirms what the framers of our state constitution understood -- funding a cause, no matter how worthy, through dedicated land revenue is bad policy," said Kate Glover, an attorney with Earthjustice.


"Land sales are an inefficient and inadequate means of funding the university," said Carol Cairnes, president of the board of directors of the Tongass Conservation Society.


"We support direct, full and legal funding for the uiversity.  Now more than ever, the uiversity is one of Alaska's most important economic engines for the 21st century," said Gnadt.


Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Tongass Conservation Society in 2007 after the Murkowski administration pushed the controversial university lands bill through the legislature. Plaintiffs did not oppose the transfer of a 51,000 acre research forest to the university in the same legislation. 

Contacts

Kate Glover, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751
Mark Gnadt, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, (907) 209-7006
Carol Cairnes, Tongass Conservation Society, (907) 617-8908
Roman Motyka, Mite Cove (907) 586-1994
Deb Spencer, Pelican, (907) 735-2495

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.