Koniag’s Will Anderson Discusses Land Use and 8(a)

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Jennifer Canfield/KMXT

President and CEO Will Anderson of Koniag Incorporated was the guest on last week’s Talk of the Rock on KMXT. Anderson discussed many issues including land use issues on Kodiak and the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) contracting program.

Koniag holds nearly a quarter million acres of land on Kodiak, which is about ten percent of the island. Anderson says the corporation is in a unique position as a private entity that allows the general public to recreate on its land.

"I think what’s sometimes troubling is people sometimes even think of us as a quasi-public entity and they want to look at those lands as if they were public but the fact is that they are not. It sometimes creates some frustration when they want to use it like public land but yet they have to get a permit or they’re denied access to that land. I understand the frustration but I really compare it to a homeowner here on Kodiak who might have a nice yard. If you’ve put a lot of money into fixing up your yard and somebody runs through it with a four-wheeler you’re going to get upset, you’re going to become protective and I think we’re no different as landowners. If someone asks permission politely to walk through your yard well of course, be our guest, but if they’re destroying your yard then you’re going to take steps to stop that and we’re just behaving in the same way."

Anderson says the corporation’s foremost concern when it comes to their land holdings is making sure it isn’t damaged. He says a popular four-wheeling trail at the back of Larsen Bay had to be reinforced so that people could still use the area without further damaging it.

"Because the trail tends to get muddy and rutted out users will fan out and widen the trail to where its several hundred yards wide. So we secured a grant through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and we hardened that trail, we made a very nice trail that people feel comfortable staying on and so the end result is that the land is no longer being damaged but yet access to that land is maintained. So it strikes a really nice balance of protecting but still providing access."

Residents might find it difficult to know which lands are open to the public and which have restricted access. Anderson says Koniag is working on a publication that would make it easier for people to know who owns what land on Kodiak and where access is allowed.

"You know 99.9 percent of people who live here are really nice people and are really respectful and want to do the right thing but in some cases they just don’t know. We’d like to kind of remedy that through communication and providing information."

Anderson talked about the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program and the controversy surrounding it. The program, which gives preference to minority and woman owned businesses in federal contracting, came under intense scrutiny in 2010 when Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill started calling for investigations into the program and stricter oversight. The program took an especially hard hit last fall after Harold Babb, the director of contracts for EyakTek- a subsidiary of Eyak Corporation- was arrested. Babb recently plead guilty to his part in a $20 million dollar scheme that included bribery and unlawful kickbacks. Anderson says the case has shed a negative light on all Native corporations.

"People kind of want to paste that on every Native corporation and I think when you look carefully the vast majority of our employees, of our executives are highly ethical people who do a good job, do good work. It’s a shame. It really is."

Participation in the 8(a) program is limited to nine years, so if a corporation wants to keep benefitting it has to create a new subsidiary to bid on new federal contracts. Anderson says Koniag is starting to steer away from 8(a) contracts as part of their business strategy.

"Our strategy is that we’re not going to keep creating new 8(a) companies. We might decide to start a new 8(a) if we make the strategic decision to enter into a new industry but right now we’ve been involved in a lot of different industries and our intent is to narrow our focus to look for ways where we can build our presence in a few core sectors where we think we do have that advantage."

One of Koniag’s major business ventures is the Kodiak Brown Bear Center on Camp Island which is in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The center is a luxury lodge that will open August 1st and in the future may entertain up to 24 guests. Anderson says Koniag has signed an easement agreement with the State of Alaska and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that limits their development on the land where the lodge is located. Anderson says that means the lodge will not expand.

You can listen to the full interview with Will Anderson here.

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