UA land management plan released

Seven houses in Palmer that are on university-owned land are slated to be sold competitively within the next several years, according to the Statewide Office of Land Management.

The houses, which are currently rented to the public, were constructed in 1968 and are next to the runway protection zone near the airport in Palmer. The City of Palmer has expressed an interest in sections of the properties for the purpose of expanding the zone, which requires buildings not exceed a certain height and prohibits buildings allowing public assembly.

Mari Montgomery, director of land management, said residents of the properties will have ample opportunity to move if the property is sold because the Alaska Landlord and Tenant Act requires residents to be able to complete their lease. If the property is sold, the new owner may want to continue renting the property as it is.

“We will sell the property subject to their tenancy, and it just depends on how much time they might have on their leases for how long they would be able to stay,” she said. “They will certainly have an opportunity to bid on the homes themselves as well.”

The decision to sell land and harvest resources came about after a series of staff meetings to evaluate which parcels have the most potential to generate income for the university.

“In FY 05, which ended July 30, we had $9.5 million in land sales,” Montgomery said. “That’s just land sales; it’s not timber or other resources.”

Land Management generates millions of dollars in income each year for the university, and has already accumulated $3.4 million in FY 06. This money is invested in the Land Grant Endowment Trust Fund, and a portion of the dividends is subsequently used to fund the Alaska Scholars program and research into renewable resources.

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In October, Joseph Beedle, UA’s vice president for finance who oversees the Fund, said the Trust is valued at roughly $130 million.

“We think it’s pretty meaningful that 1,200 students are getting a good portion of their tuition paid for out of this program,” he said.

The decision to fund the Alaska Scholars Program is made by University President Mark Hamilton, Beedle said, and the funding must be committed for an extended period of time.

“We give an award letter -which is a contract – to a student over six years-so we very easily can’t say the board of regents changed their mind,” he said. “We have a commitment for all of those students coming through the pipeline to graduate and expire that commitment.”

Historically, land sales have been the biggest revenue generator for land management, with 52 percent of income coming from land and 46 percent from timber. Other resources, such as mining and oil, constitute the remaining two percent revenue.

UA is a land-grant university, which means it uses government-appropriated lands to supplement its legislative revenue. UA has approximately 180,000 acres, although it will be getting another 250,000 acres because of a bill introduced by Gov. Murkowski that was signed into law in July. The State of Alaska has until July of 2008 to survey and turn over the land to UA.

The land management’s development plan for 2006, released Nov. 5, details future land transactions for the university, and is open to public review and comment before it becomes finalized Jan. 13, 2006.