August 5, 2006
The Honorable Ted Stevens
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Stevens,
Residents of the Wrangells received a copy of your July 18, 2006 letter to National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director Marcia Blaszak relating to the inappropriate application of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) 1110(b) access. Thank you for taking a stand on this important issue and suggesting resolution through rule-making or legislation.
Although the NPS stand on some issues is softening, they remain steadfast to the idea that NEPA law must apply. They offer to waive fees for environmental assessments (EAs) but insist that inholders pay for environmental impact statements (EISs) on more complex routes, a complexity determined at their own discretion. Particularly worrisome is the assessment process to be used on construction of new routes. New rule-making or legislation to clarify that NEPA law does not apply would be a great relief to all inholders and would remove the largest obstacle in achieving a simple and timely solution.
NPS personnel in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park (WRST) have already initiated their programmatic EA (PEA) process. Several rights-of-way in the McCarthy/Kennicott, Chokosna (my own 1.6 mile route included), and Nabesna areas have been walked and GPSed by WRST Lands Manager/Geologist Danny Rosenkrans and site surveys have begun to document vegetation, braiding, and wetland issues. I am told they hope to start their first PEA this winter for these few routes and it will be used as a model for others. We questioned the onset of the NEPA review procedure before the Access Guide has even been finalized, but NPS believes that the law applies and the assessments will have to be done at some point in the process.
We have repeatedly asked them to consider categorical exclusions (CEs), as suggested by Governor Murkowski and most inholder groups. However, NPS feels that current CEs do not specifically apply to our situation and are leery to consider the lengthy and cumbersome process involved in creating a new one.
Through recent meetings and discussions with Regional Director Marcia Blaszak and Deputy Regional Director Vic Knox, we have seen a change in NPS’ perspective since the issuance of draft two of the User’s Guide. Their hard-line stance on 30-year permits has softened as a result of comments received from the Governor, State, University of Alaska, native corporations, and resident organizations. They are now at least willing to consider the use of permanent easements on all existing access routes, coupled with a certificate of legal access attached to each parcel in perpetuity, rather than the standard NPS right-of-way permit used nationwide. This is a monumental step forward if accomplished, but NPS personnel claim they must research their authority to provide permanent easements.
If the agency claims they cannot follow this path, I foresee the need for rule-making or legislation to clarify the permanent easement, perpetuity, and land attachment issues as well. Also, Alaskan NPS personnel propose to waive fees at the policy level to give inholders relief from their nationwide rental and assessment fee schedules. However, residents worry about the lack of permanence of policy easily changed by subsequent administrations. Rule-making or legislation could also clarify and lend permanence to the fee waiver.
We support your suggestion that NPS begin the rule-making process to eliminate the need for NEPA compliance. Now is the time to sort out and document our ANILCA 1110(b) access rights in a way that will provide permanence and security for the future. We thank you for your ongoing attempts to help residents find a fair and timely solution for NPS recognition of our access routes. Our organization stands ready to support you in any way that we can throughout this process.
Chairman, Residents of the Wrangells
cc: NPS Regional Director Marcia Blaszak
Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator
The Honorable Don Young, U.S. Representative
Ray Kreig, Alaska Land Rights Coalition
Paula Easley, Alaska Land Rights Coalition
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