This month we bid adieu to HB 244. Those with long memories recall that in 2001, the Alaska legislature authorized conveyance of up to 3,500 acres of land to the Denali Borough for the purpose of providing a railroad and utility corridor from Healy west to the Denali National Park boundary. The legislation specifically described this as a land grant to facilitate the development of a railroad by Kantishna Holdings, the brainchild of Joe Fields of Fairbanks. Fields had spent the better part of a decade promoting a privately-funded tourist railroad from Healy to Kantishna, and despite the fact he had no obvious experience, capital, or investors the legislature decided to support his endeavor.
DCC and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center’s Denali Watch program lobbied extensively against this poorly-conceived bill but were unsuccessful in derailing it even though we did secure Governor Tony Knowles’ veto, which the legislature then overrode. The effort did produce a significant amendment however: the addition of Section 1(e) which read: “By September 1, 2010, the Denali Borough shall lease the land received under this section to a person for a railroad development project. Otherwise, on September 1, 2010, the title to the land granted under this section reverts to the state.” The Borough never did pursue its title to the land and this statute proved to be the highwater mark for Fields’ railroad project, which has since faded away. But with the passing of September 1 this year, HB 244 is finally undone.