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DOES LAND SWAP HAVE ANY MERIT? CONSENSUS IS THAT NO ONE KNOWS

SHARE DOES LAND SWAP HAVE ANY MERIT? CONSENSUS IS THAT NO ONE KNOWS

Everyone agreed Thursday that nobody knows - or likely can even figure out - whether an Alaska land swap pushed by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, for Kennecott evenly benefits both the nation and mining companies.

But Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, is still intimating that Garn is orchestrating a land "giveaway" to benefit Utah's Kennecott - an accusation that this month made Garn's temper explode in a long Senate floor tirade against "meddling" by Eastern senators in Western land issues.Garn was more reserved Thursday in a hearing about the swap - which he insists is good for all - before the Senate Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands, National Parks and Forests.

But he vowed to continue pushing the deal, while Metzenbaum vowed to continue fighting it and other officials said they did not have data to conclusively prove whose contentions about the deal are correct.

Garn earlier this month pushed the complex swap by trying to amend a bill changing rules of operation in Alaska's gigantic Tongass National Forest.

In the complex three-way swap, the federal government would give Sealaska Corp. subsurface mineral rights beneath about 33,000 acres on Alaska's Admiralty Island - much of it near a mine owned 53 percent by Kennecott.

In exchange, Sealaska would give the government about the same acreage of subsurface rights elsewhere in Tongass. It would also then allow the group led by Kennecott to develop minerals near its mine in a deal that would give Sealaska 5 percent of the profit.

Sealaska would then also give the federal government 10 percent of its 5 percent share of mine profits. In addition, Sealaska would give about 2,500 acres of surface forest land it owns near Nutkwa Lagoon, which the federal government would like to turn into a wilderness area.

Metzenbaum insists the federal government should find out whether the minerals in the land it is giving up are roughly worth what it is obtaining in return.

"You don't have to be a business genius to know the United States isn't getting much, one-half of 1 percent (in royalties from Sealaska)," Metzenbaum said. "We should not give up something for nothing."

Garn countered that no one knows what minerals may lie beneath the land, and Kennecott may be trading for nothing. But the United States will receive about the same amount of other land with unknown mineral deposits plus land wanted for wilderness plus some royalties. Also, more mining could bring more jobs.