Herb Lang was interviewed by Bill Schneider and Karen Brewster on November 13, 2008 in Anchorage, Alaska, at the office headquarters of Anchorage Sand and Gravel, a company he owned for over thirty years. At age 79, Herb is the last surviving staff member of the Alaska Territorial Land Office who made the original mental health trust land selections in the late 1950s. In this interview, he talks about land valuation and how and why the lands were selected, ramifications of the selections, and restoration of the Trust after the settlement.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Nov 13, 2008
Narrator(s): Herb Lang
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: Herb’s upbringing and background, and why he came to Alaska.
Section 2: His first jobs for the Territorial Department of Agriculture at Palmer in 1955 and the Territorial Land Office in Anchorage in 1957, and types of land that the Territory of Alaska was managing.
Section 3: Selecting and surveying the Mental Health Trust Lands which were previously owned by the Bureau of Land Management.
Section 4: Other land surveying and selection issues, such as in-lieu lands and statehood lands.
Section 5: Cherry picking lands based on value and revenue that could be earned from them, and the rules and regulations involved.
Section 6: Impact of knowing people in the land application and selection process, and budgetary issues related to the Territorial Lands Office and land selection process.
Section 7: Some of the other players in the early period of selecting Mental Health Trust and Statehood lands.
Section 8: The effect of selecting Mental Health Trust lands, and the controversy over the land program and management of the Trust.
Section 9: His activities and career after working for the Alaska Territorial Land Office.
Section 10: The criteria outlined by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Enabling Act which limited what lands could be selected, and why places like Prudhoe Bay were not included.
Section 11: Role of the Land Commission, and issues with appraising lands and difficulties in finding comparable lands for Mental Health Trust lands that had been disposed of.
Section 12: How the demand for land effects the value, and his assessment of his role in the Mental Health Trust.
Section 13: The controversies and frustrations of the Mental Health Trust.
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. So today is November 13th. HERB LANG: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: 2008. I'm Bill Schneider; Karen Brewster is here with me, too. And we have the pleasure of doing an interview with Herb Lang today. And we're at his offices, at Alaska Sand & Gravel in Anchorage. And I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. HERB LANG: Glad to do it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Herb is particularly important to us because of his involvement in the early land selections for the Mental Health Trust, but I always like to back up and start with a little bit about your background, where you were born and where you were brought up.
HERB LANG: I was born in New Jersey, and was raised there. I finished high school. And in 1947, I left on a Greyhound bus to Seattle, Alaska steam to Seward, wound up in Fairbanks where I worked and attended university, and spent my four years there and took a degree in 1951.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum. And why did you leave New Jersey? HERB LANG: Too crowded, too many people. I wanted more room, more space. Something new, something different. And restless. A 17‑year‑old kid, they can be restless. I always said I had a big advantage going off on my own because when you're 17, you know everything. So you can do lots of things.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Why Fairbanks? HERB LANG: It was ‑‑ I was looking for a place to go to school. And 1947, after World War II, it was difficult to get into schools. There was a lot of vets coming back, GI Bill and all that. So I had sent applications around, and that was the first place I was accepted. I was accepted some other places after awhile, but I had committed to go there and I just thought that would be a good experience for me. And it turned out to be good.
That's been, you know, 60 years ago. So that worked out all right, and I stayed up here. Took my degree there. So... BILL SCHNEIDER: What was your degree in? HERB LANG: My degree was in agriculture. Not very many graduates from ‑‑ I think there were three or four of us that year, and maybe one or two the year after that, and then not very many.
I think they changed the program into natural resources and they ‑‑ they kind of blended it with wildlife management and some of the other ‑‑ some of the other courses there. But it worked out ‑‑ worked out pretty good.
I ‑‑ I was also commissioned to ROTC then. And you may recall in 1950, the Korean War broke out, I got called up after I graduated and spent a couple years in the Army, a year over in Korea, and came back in '53, after the truce.
Section 2: And went back to school, and I went down to the University of Pennsylvania, and spent two years down there and took another degree. And then I was looking for a job, and I was offered a job by the Territorial Department of Agriculture at Palmer. And that was '55.
And I came back up and settled in the ‑‑ settled into Palmer. Worked there a couple years, and then an opening came up with the Territorial Land Office, and ‑‑ in Anchorage. And I applied and was given that job. That would have been 1957. And that would have been '50 ‑‑ '57.
There were just a few of us at the Land Office at that time. A man by the name of Chipperfield, W. A. Chipperfield was the Territorial Land Commissioner. He's the territorial liaison, he had been appointed by the Governor, who himself had been appointed in those days. And he was the man who ran the office, and there were ‑‑ there were three of us.
And I was a new appointee, and I was the lands officer, for all that was worth. By no ‑‑ there was one lady staffed there. And not much else. And we were to look after school lands, the Section 16s and 36s. And Chipperfield knew where many of them were. And we drove around, looked at the lands. And some of them had been leased, some of them had gravel pits on them.
We also had the escheat lands, kind of peculiar. These are lands that the territory got title to when mostly pioneers died. People went to the Pioneers Home and they signed their land over to ‑‑ or the assets over to the state and the territory, and then they were ‑‑ they were taken care of for the rest of their life. And at the time of their death, then the territory took title to the land.
And so we had some odd bits and pieces of escheat lands. We took care of those. And so we had school lands, escheat lands, and then the mental health lands were given to us ‑‑ were given to the territory in '56. And before that, you probably all know better than I do, they had Morningside Hospital in Oregon, and people had mental health in those days, they tied them up and put them on a plane and sent them down there. And for the most part, they never returned.
I think they were just kind of inventoried down there. I think that was maybe the impression at the time. And maybe that's unkind, but that's the idea I had.
Section 3: Anyway, we were given this job to select a million acres of ground. Kind of a ‑‑ kind of a new deal for anybody. It was something of a shock to BLM. Someone was going to go poking around in their inventory and hand pick out a million acres, for the most part, they didn't care for that.
The lands had to be surveyed and they had to be pretty much non‑mineral. That is, they were not mining ‑‑ they couldn't be mining claims. They couldn't have any ‑‑ any rights on them. On a ‑‑ usually they ‑‑ unappropriated, uncommitted to another ‑‑ another purpose.
So on one level of thought, it was pretty simple. You go to BLM and you go through their records and you find what lands were available, then if you had the time and budget, you went and looked at them. That was ‑‑ that was all pretty simple.
To a large degree what we were trying to select were lands of value. And they had to be surveyed and, you know, this ‑‑ this land was given to the state territory to produce revenue to support the mental health system. So we just didn't select a big chunk of land because it was a big chunk of land that was available, we tried to pick out the land that would be the most useful.
Well, you run into things on another level. The BLM, they had almost all the land in Alaska, and many of the towns and cities were blocked in by BLM land. BLM, when cities started to grow up, they would ‑‑ they would remove the land from being available to be homesteaded.
There would be a public order and they would ‑‑ they would tie up the land. Then they ‑‑ in order to make lands available, they would subdivide the land into small tracts, 2 and a half, 5 acre ‑‑ 5 acre pieces. Well, this whole process would probably take five years. They would withdraw the lands, and then they would classify them, and then they had to have them surveyed, and surveying small tracts was quite a bit of work. And they needed budgets for this.
So there was a demand and a push for lands because people couldn't get land, and BLM had it all tied up, so they ‑‑ they did these small tracts all around the state and they all ‑‑ anyway, we came along and we selected them. So we frustrated everybody.
BLM had worked on these things for ‑‑ some of those people worked on them for years to get them to the marketplace, and here we come along and grab them. And the people in the towns and the cities and some of the villages, they were looking for these lands that come available so they could expand their ‑‑ their town, people would have some land to use, and all of a sudden we had them. We selected them and tied them up.
And I'd say on one ‑‑ on our side it was easy. We picked ‑‑ knew what we kind of wanted to pick out, lands of value, but on the other side, huh, look what we just did. And then people said, all right, you selected them, now what are we going to do? Well, we didn't have a program to ‑‑ to sell them or lease them. That developed some years later.
And I think primarily in leasing. I don't ‑‑ I think they tried to maintain in the beginning the integrity of the corpus of the ‑‑ of the holdings, and they were just going to lease them out on 55‑year leases or long‑term leases, and get the revenue in, which would be a ‑‑ one way to manage a ‑‑ a trust, trust land. But I think those policies all ‑‑ all developed sometime later.
So we ‑‑ we ‑‑ I think we did a ‑‑ did a pretty good job in going around, but we were ‑‑ you know, we were cherry picking. No question ‑‑ no question about it.
Section 4: There was some other activities at the time. Oh, the University of Alaska was looking for what they called in‑lieu lands.
And these were lands ‑‑ the University of Alaska were entitled to, as I recall, the Section 33s in the Tanana Valley as they became surveyed. Well, sometimes by the time they became surveyed, they had claims on them and they couldn't ‑‑ they couldn't get them.
So they ‑‑ they were able to, after they were identified, they lost some of that land, they were entitled to go around looking for something in lieu of that. So there were ‑‑ they were active. So there were ‑‑ there were a number of us active, a number of agencies active in ‑‑ in the selection of lands.
And then, of course, statehood came with the 103 million, so there was a ‑‑ there was a scramble. But I ‑‑ as I recall, we pretty much concluded the mental health selections before we really got into ‑‑ into statehood lands. And the bases for the statehood lands was somewhat different. I mean, we just couldn't select 5 acres here and 5 acres there.
It would be centuries trying to get this done. We had to go and get a township here, five townships there. So it was a ‑‑ a different ‑‑ different deal. And also the surveying of the land. Mental health lands, they had been surveyed, but a lot of the small, small tracts, and maybe 40 acres here, and maybe a ‑‑ maybe a whole section someplace, not very often.
But when you get into the state selection, talking about millions of acres, the Federal Cadastral engineers made a calculation it was going to take them 150 years to go and survey the land that the state had a right to, had 25 years to do it. Wonderful. But they were looking at it on the basis of you go out and cut section line, put a ‑‑ put a corner at each section corner, maybe a center corner. This all was all done by hand.
I ‑‑ I worked for BLM in '48, and that's what I did. Went out and cut section line, putting stakes in the corner. Well, you're trying ‑‑ talking about a million acres or 10 million acres, couldn't do it. So it had to be a whole new program. And they did this with aerial photos. It took some years to work out. All these things took time, this was all brand new, new ground. Nobody had ever been there before.
Most of the people that the state then dealt with on the federal side, they were traditionalists. We always did it this way. Now all this had to be new and different, and they were giving up a lot of their land. Some of them didn't like that and didn't think that was ‑‑ that was really correct.
Then I know I'm getting off the mental health lands, but all of the lands that were selected and wound up in state ownership, there ‑‑ there was some other ramifications to these that people didn't realize in the beginning.
One was there was a formula that the federal government had for the state on fire suppression. The federal government did almost all the fire suppression. Smoke jumpers and all that. It was based upon how many ‑‑ what percentage of land the state owned as against what the federal people owned.
We are merrily selecting land, then this formula came in, and so we're selecting land, primarily the big pieces and statehood lands, and then the Department of Forestry said, well, gentlemen, we now have to pay more for our share of forest fighting, and that we are expected, the Division of Lands, to come up with that money. Because we didn't have any budget for that, we didn't even ‑‑ hadn't thought that one through. Again, Rosco Bell had to fight that one out.
Next comes along the Commission of Highways. Gentlemen, the match on road monies depends upon what you own and what the Feds own. And we have to come up with more money for our road. I assume you have that in your budget. Of course, we didn't. And hadn't thought of that.
Suddenly we were ‑‑ selecting land was interesting and challenging, but there were many ramifications, particularly in the mental health lands. We frustrated a lot of people in these small towns and villages by taking this land, which is the kind of land that people wanted. It had value, it was marketable, and that's why we took it and that's why they wanted it.
And I think I could look later, that's probably one of the reasons the legislature reached in there and said, all right, we're going to ‑‑ this is kind of a trust, but you know, yeah, okay, we'll do ‑‑ we'll do something with the land anyway. And they ‑‑ they took it. They stripped a lot of that out. It's a long story, but maybe it was –
Section 5: BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, when you said that you were cherry picking lands ‑‑ HERB LANG: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: ‑‑ what were the considerations there? I know being close to a community was a consideration. HERB LANG: Well, value. And use and value. The closer you were to lake frontage or river frontage or ‑‑ or a town or a village, there was more demand for the land, and hence, more value.
So ‑‑ and BLM had gone through all those same studies and said, all right, here's Ketchikan, for instance. They are trying to grow, the mountains are behind them, the strip along the ocean there, so we'll take some lands, we'll withdraw them from entry, we'll go over there and survey them, then we'll make them available for the town to grow both north and south along the coast. Well, I just described five years worth of work. Congratulations, we arrive and we said, okay, we'll take that. And people said, all right. Can we buy them? No, you can't buy them. We don't ‑‑ we don't have any rules or regulations.
Well, I think they ‑‑ ultimately we leased some of them, but it took the state, the new state awhile to write rules and regulations. So, you know, we ‑‑ we cherry picked. We picked out the best ones we could. The instructions were you want this land for the production of revenue to support the mental health facility. And that's ‑‑ that's the way we went.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How ‑‑ how did they produce money? How ‑‑ how were you thinking they would produce money? HERB LANG: Rent. Rent. That would be ‑‑ and then some of the lands later, I think we ‑‑ some of them were ‑‑ were denied, and I think that we took some timber land, too. I don't think we ever really went much for mineral lands.
I think there was ‑‑ most of the time we were just talking about mineral lands, we were talking about either placer or hard rock. We weren't talking about oil and gas then. And these looked ‑‑ people had mining claims all over the place, and a lot of them were not any good, maybe the lands were not really valuable for minerals, but they would preclude ‑‑ preclude selection and they wouldn't be surveyed.
So ‑‑ so there was some ‑‑ there was some lands, if I recall, down around Yakutat that was surveyed from the early days, I think we took some timber lands in there. I think the university took some in there, too. Yeah.
I haven't followed all the activities. I know about the lawsuits, I know about the challenges, I know about the ‑‑ the work to reconstitute the ‑‑ the trust and the difficulties. I talked to some of the real estate appraisers, and it was an impossible job. I was a real estate appraiser myself but never ‑‑ after I left the State.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, we'll get to there in a minute or two. HERB LANG: I did different little things here. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. HERB LANG: But that was primarily ‑‑ primarily we were looking for surface values and use in the rather near future. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. HERB LANG: Would be the criteria.
Section 6: BILL SCHNEIDER: And ‑‑ and how would you ‑‑ how would you assess the work you did? Do you think you did a good job? Bad job? Were there time constraints you worked within? HERB LANG: I think we did a pretty good job. We ‑‑ we had some good people, and we kind of knew the state and territory. We got around pretty well.
We had some friends over at BLM and they would make the records available to us, though they may, you know, some of them, like the people who were the townsite trustees and the small tract people, they didn't like this, but many of them worked for BLM for some years and they had accidentally become Alaskans, so they were with us.
And then having gone to school in Fairbanks, you wind up knowing a lot of people. A lot of people were in your grade or another grade. And we could go to a village, and believe it or not, in those days you go there and just get there and want to look around, you start talking to people, well, next thing you know, oh, you went to school with their cousin.
And you were ‑‑ you know, come on home for lunch. And you're on the inside. So it all ‑‑ it all kind of worked. I'm not sure it works that way now, but it ‑‑ it certainly did then.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What was the size of the office that you had? I mean, did you ‑‑ were there three people you mentioned? Were there more, or ‑‑ HERB LANG: I think there were four. Four people there. I think there were four people. There was Chipperfield, there was a man hired the same time as I was hired, and he was an engineer surveyor, his name was Oswalt. And there was a lady administrating this thing. And me.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And you did the whole state? You had to assess lands in the whole state? HERB LANG: Yes. And you do it a lot by ‑‑ by maps. Sometimes we would go out and take a look at something if we could, but mostly we didn't have the budget, didn't have the money. And if you look at some remote area, you're talking about hiring a ‑‑ you know, a float plane or small plane to go out there and look at it.
So we could ‑‑ we did ‑‑ we just had to get by with what we had and the budget we had. I remember in those days, per diem was like $8 a day, so you know, money ran out fast. What is it now? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. HERB LANG: 50?
BILL SCHNEIDER: I don't think it's that high for us, but for many it is. But on that question of the budget, that's something we hadn't really pursued. Was there in the Mental Health Trust Enabling Act a ‑‑ a budget line put in for this work to be done?
HERB LANG: I don't think so. I think the territory was given money, but it was part of the budget to help them to get started running mental health programs. But I don't think any of that ran down through our budget. I was not in that part of the program, so I don't ‑‑ but I don't think so.
And we were ‑‑ the other problem you had is we had a budget ‑‑ the legislature met only every other year, so you had to anticipate things. And I don't think this was anticipated. Statehood wasn't anticipated.
So the ‑‑ we were ‑‑ we had to ‑‑ if we needed money, Chipperfield would go down and beg some from the Governor. He would have some account someplace. And you know, as long as he would get along with the Governor, you know, we could ‑‑ and they were sympathetic to what we were doing, then maybe we could get a little extra money.
We also had to pay ‑‑ we had to pay application fees to BLM when we put an application in. And I don't remember if that was a lot of a problem or much of a problem in mental health lands, but it was certainly over when selecting state lands it got to be a big problem. I mean, it got to be some fair amounts of money. And that wasn't budgeted or anticipated either.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But this was a ‑‑ but this was a federal act and you still had to pay BLM ‑‑ HERB LANG: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: ‑‑ in the selection process? HERB LANG: I ‑‑ I know we did on the ‑‑ I'm pretty sure we did on the mental health, and I know we did over on the ‑‑ on the state selections.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's amazing. HERB LANG: Oh, yeah. And some pretty good ‑‑ pretty good sums of money. Nowadays compared to the oil and gas revenues and all that, it's not much, but then if we had to write a check for $10,000 to put in a pile of applications, that was a lot of money. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. HERB LANG: So...
Section 7: BILL SCHNEIDER: And what was Chipperfield's relationship with the governor? HERB LANG: Good. He had been appointed by the governor. I think the governor then was Frank Heintzleman, and I think he was an old forester, and so was Chipperfield. They were old forest service people. I think Heintzleman, was he the last appointed governor? Or was Stepovich after that?
BILL SCHNEIDER: I don't recall, but ‑‑ HERB LANG: But maybe ‑‑ but Heintzleman was the ‑‑ I think it was B. Frank Heintzleman, I think he was the governor at that time, and he and Chipperfield were... BILL SCHNEIDER: And what sort of time frame were you working within? Did you have an end date as to when all these had to be selected?
HERB LANG: There must have been a ‑‑ I think there was a 10‑year, I'm not sure, but I think there was a ‑‑ there was a ‑‑ there was a limitation. There was on state land, on 25 there was, but I think there was a limitation in the mental health lands, too. But we just wanted to get on with the job and just do it.
And things were changing when they started talking about statehood, and then there was some talk about Native claims, which developed later. We just went on as ‑‑ as long as we had some budget, some money to do it, we just did it. ]We just got it done. Taken in early.
Those days, we were not bureaucrats, we got things done. And it was a job and we did it. A couple ‑‑ couple good guys came on with us, Salvador DeLeonados was another. He died here just a couple of weeks ago. And he came on with us. And you know.
But then the things moved and we became a state, then things changed, changed quickly. The Territorial Land Office was a kind of funny creature. It had the land commissioner, and had a five‑man board that kind of over ‑‑ oversaw there.
And Commissioner Holdsworth later became commissioner. He was Commissioner of Mines back in those days. And then the Commissioner of Revenue, the Attorney General who was elected in those days. And the Commissioner of Agriculture, Jim Wilson. Jay Gerald Williams was Attorney General. And I'm not sure who came over from commerce and budget.
But they had a five‑man board and they kind of looked after things. Chipperfield ran it. And then after statehood, Phil Holdsworth became the Commissioner of Natural Resources. He moved ‑‑ he moved up one. And agriculture and mines and minerals and land came under his jurisdiction.
And then he brought in Rosco Bell as the director of Division of Lands. Very, very good man. BLM man. A lot of ‑‑ a lot of background, a very, very ‑‑ very good man. Lots of good foresight. He was able to get along with the ‑‑ all the players, and really got ‑‑ really got things done. So Phil Holdsworth made a very good decision in bringing in Rosco Bell. And he was ‑‑ he was my boss then, until ‑‑ until I left in '63.
Section 8: BILL SCHNEIDER: Why ‑‑ why do you think that ‑‑ that the state reneged on the Mental Health Trust Lands? HERB LANG: I think the individual legislators wanted to bring something back, they always liked to bring something back for their constituents.
And this was a ‑‑ this was something they could do, bring back some land and give it to their boroughs, give it to their cities. Didn't cost them anything personally, and makes them look like real heroes. And also I think there was some frustration there. They ‑‑ we had selected these lands, and we kind of blocked their development. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum.
HERB LANG: So the people were ‑‑ wanted more land. That's ‑‑ that's been a ‑‑ been a thing in Alaska for many, many years. People wanted land. And in the early days, you could get it from homesteading, and that was a real process.
The ‑‑ the land wasn't, for the most part, really wasn't suitable for homesteading in the classic sense you came out ‑‑ came out of the states, that's just prairie or just get a couple of horses and a plow and open it up. It wasn't that way up here. There's a few areas, Tanana Valley, maybe a little in Matanuska Valley, but not the same way.
So people always wanted land. I always believed that that was one of the driving forces that brought around statehood that we would have jurisdiction of our own land and there would be some ‑‑ some opportunity to get land. And then here we come along happily and grab all this land that the BLM was putting out. Didn't we do a great job for mental health? We locked up all the development lands. We didn't have a program to ‑‑ to bring them to the market. Not yet.
So I think politicians always liked to deliver something back to their constituents, and this was a handy thing. Some of the people at the time were not too impressed with the idea it was a trust. I'm sure you got a lot of readings on that. I dealt with some of them, they didn't care. It didn't make any difference to them. So that ‑‑ so I ‑‑ I think that's why they ‑‑ they probably put their...
BILL SCHNEIDER: So I guess that notion of the trust concept, from what I hear you saying, was fairly controversial? HERB LANG: Well, yes, in some ways. I think it was ‑‑ I think it was just convenient for some of them to ignore it. The ‑‑ it's the federal government, it's a trust. You know, that ‑‑ that kind of way. We'll just go do it.
And we have all noticed that sometimes people appointed or people elected, their ‑‑ their span of concern is only their own term, or maybe a little bit longer. And if it blows up later, well, you know, that's the way life is. But look at the good things that I've done for my term. And maybe I can get elected again.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But it's amazing when Bell and Holdsworth and yourself, who had been so involved in that, that they were able to do that. HERB LANG: I can recall some discussions about this not being the right thing to do, and essentially we were told to shut up. I mean, some of the legislators really had this high on their agenda, and when you ‑‑ if you talked too much about things they didn't like, next thing you know you talk about your budget, the way it worked. Yeah.
Section 9: BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Well, let's get to the rest of your career. How long did you stay with the Lands Office? HERB LANG: I stayed until '63, and then I went off on my own. I became a real estate broker and a real estate appraiser. And then '64 came along and there was a bit of an earthquake at that time and the real estate business kind of went upside down, sideways.
And the people who owned Anchorage Sand & Gravel in those days had a lot of trouble. They took a lot of damage, a lot of loss from the earthquake. The main plant and everything fell down and they had difficulties.
And they asked me to do an appraisal of the properties, and ‑‑ and then they asked me to work on a business plan. And then they decided that, you know, maybe they had to do something different.
So I rounded up a couple of partners and we bought the company. That was in '64. And then my partners all had other things to do and they said, part of the deal is you run it. So I ran it for quite a few years.
We sold it about ‑‑ I would say a couple years ago, so I guess it's more like 10 years ago now. And I agreed to stay around for a couple of years, and I'm still here, kind of. I have an office here and I can ‑‑ I can come and go. And sometimes they will come up ‑‑ the staff will come up with a brand new idea, it will be a great way to make money, and I'm asked to listen, and more times than not I say that's a great idea, we tried that, we lost a lot of money. So ‑‑ so sometimes I'm useful.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How well did the University of Alaska prepare you for the land challenges you faced? HERB LANG: I think they did a pretty good job. I went down to graduate school. Most of my other people went to school down there. There, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, whatever. And I kind of held my own. Got another degree down there.
Land, I've always kind of understood land. Land was something I kind of had a feeling for. And the value of the land, the useful land, classification of land, land development. And I ‑‑ since I've owned Anchorage Sand , whenever we had some extra money, I had a tendency to buy a piece of land.
Sometimes I joked I made more money for the company out of those side deals than I did out of the business. But part of it. You know. I think they prepared me quite well. You know, it's not ‑‑ it's not Stanford, it's not University of Washington, in those days it was small, but they ‑‑ they are good people there. Good instructors, good professors, and you pay attention, you can learn. And I think it treated me very well.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And what about when ‑‑ you said in Pennsylvania. What was ‑‑ was it University of Pennsylvania? HERB LANG: Yes, it was, Philadelphia. Actually, the Wharton School of Financing. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh. Oh, okay. HERB LANG: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: So you got the finance part of it then. HERB LANG: I got the finance part of it then, yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum.
HERB LANG: That sure hasn't done me any good in the last couple of months. Or probably anybody else. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's right. That's right. Let's see. Karen, do you have some questions?
Section 10: KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah. One question I had is at the time whether there was any indication about developments in Prudhoe Bay and why those lands were not selected? HERB LANG: There was no ‑‑ no hint of that at all. None. And those lands were not surveyed.
So they ‑‑ and the other thing, they would have been ‑‑ they would have been a single‑purpose selection. And if you really want to make money or you want to have developable land, it is well to have a couple of uses, possible uses. Up in Prudhoe Bay, if they didn't find oil, you know, you really had land of very, very limited value.
When the state selected land up there, that was a ‑‑ that was a big discussion point. We had one man on the staff who really felt there was some promising oil and gas lands up there, but it was going to be a one‑shot deal, one use. If it wasn't that, and if it wasn't a big find, it would not have any economic value because you need a pipeline.
So it had to be something really, really significant. And what they ‑‑ I think what they call an elephant field or something like that. And it turned out to be that way, it turned out to be a good guess, but from a mental health selection point of view, no. And it wasn't ‑‑ we couldn't ‑‑ we couldn't reach it. Not ‑‑ not with the ‑‑ not with the ‑‑ the limitations instructions here. It would have been a great idea, but...
KAREN BREWSTER: What about the Beluga coal fields? Was that ‑‑ was that part of the mental health selections? HERB LANG: I don't think so. And I think the Beluga coal fields were under coal lease, so they were appropriated or encumbered, so I think they would not have been available to us.
KAREN BREWSTER: So mostly the lands that you selected were around existing communities and townships and ‑‑ HERB LANG: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: ‑‑ municipalities and things? HERB LANG: Yes. They were surveyed, they were unoccupied, unclaimed, and they ‑‑ they were reasonably marketable, and going to be useful in the very near future, and those would be the ones that we selected.
KAREN BREWSTER: And there were enough of those to make a million acres? HERB LANG: I think we took some ‑‑ some timber lands, too. I don't recall all the ones we made, but I know some north of Fairbanks there. Then the other limitation was ‑‑ was what was surveyed. You know, the ‑‑ at that time, I think probably the time of statehood, I think probably like one‑third of 1 percent of Alaska was surveyed.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And you limited yourself just to those, then? HERB LANG: We had to. They had to be surveyed lands. And that was ‑‑ KAREN BREWSTER: So the Enabling Act limited you to that? HERB LANG: That's right. And that was the big difficulty over in thestatehood land. You know, they need surveyed. How are we going to do that? And Cadastral Survey said, my God, can't get enough men out there. Because the old way ‑‑ the old ways you find the corner and you start from there and you cut a line for a mile, half mile, you put in a stake, cut a corner, cut a corner. I mean, you could go out there forever, ever.
KAREN BREWSTER: So a lot of ground to walk around. HERB LANG: Yeah. In '48, I did that for BLM, and we did ‑‑ we did small tracts. That was the other plan that they had, small tracts on O'Malley, DeArmond, Rabbit Creek, put a couple hundred tracts in there, but that took two crews about two summers to do all that. And we're doing 5 acres and 2 and a half acres, so there were more ‑‑ more stakes involved, but a lot of work.
Section 11: KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned the five‑member commission. HERB LANG: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Can you explain the relationship between you as the staff of the Lands Office and that commission. Did you have to have them approve your selections? HERB LANG: The ‑‑ KAREN BREWSTER: How did that work?
HERB LANG: The only ‑‑ I ‑‑ we didn't deal with ‑‑ with the commission. Our commissioner, Chipperfield, dealt with them. And they worked on a general policy basis. And I ‑‑ I knew some of them, but I knew them, like Jim Wilson, I had worked for Jim up in the Valley. And Jay Joe Williams, everybody knew him. And Holdsworth we knew from Division of Mines and Minerals. But I never ‑‑ I never dealt with them.
But they would ‑‑ I think they would give guidelines, and I think if we wanted to sell some escheat lands or something like that, then they would ‑‑ they would approve that. And that was another thing I did. I went out and I'd go and appraise this and appraise that on escheat lands.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the mental health lands selection, they didn't approve that whole plan? HERB LANG: I can't ‑‑ I think they probably did, but I ‑‑ I can't say. I mean, it would ‑‑ it would have been an important part of their ‑‑ of their responsibility, but I don't know. I was not in ‑‑ in on that part of it.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about the valuing of the land? Was that something your office did or that was already in the BLM record what the value was? I know land valuing is very complicated. HERB LANG: There was no values. The BLM never ‑‑ they would ‑‑ I think they would put on some minimums when they sold their lands, and I think they sold them, some of them were just right of entry, but some of them they sold, but BLM was never really in the appraisal business.
We got in after we became a state, Division of Lands got into the appraisal business, because we started selling some land, started selling some agricultural lands and recreational lands, and we also cleaned up a lot of the escheat lands. And there was another man and I, we did ‑‑ we were sent out to appraisal school, I spent a month out in Illinois going to appraisal classes, then another man and I, we went ‑‑ we would go around and put a ‑‑ try and put a reasonable value on some of the lands, and then they would be auctioned. So that was kind of the safeguard.
It was an interesting, interesting process. You go out 200 miles out in the woods, and here's 10 acres of ground some old timer had, and there's an old log cabin falling down there, and then say, what is the fair market value of that piece of land. And come up with a number. Supposed to be a regular process.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, the restoration of the trust ‑‑ HERB LANG: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: ‑‑ they weren't able to bring back all the lands. HERB LANG: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: But how do you think that's worked out? HERB LANG: I don't know. I really don't have any close knowledge. I remember talking to some of the people who were on the appraisal, and the difficulties in trying to find comparables and trying to find some basis of value.
And I think, as I recall, when the negotiations took place, the appraisals were miles and miles apart. They were. And you could really have good, qualified, honest appraisals and you could come up with big differences.
You know, in town here what is a lot worth down on Fourth Avenue, you can get that down pretty close. Take it up in the Matanuska Valley, okay, some comparables up there. Go on the other side of Willow, a little bit more difficult. And then go out to Northway, who knows. Difficult. Yeah.
But there was a ‑‑ I understand there was a ‑‑ finally a resolution and money and land that was put back together to reconstitute the trust. Is that right? BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum. But I don't think they were able to replace all the land, though. HERB LANG: No, the land was disposed of. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. HERB LANG: Given out to cities and boroughs and then disposed of. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And they couldn't get that back so they had to find other lands that were comparable. HERB LANG: Yes. Yes. That was the difficulty.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that was the difficulty. HERB LANG: Yeah. Comparable lands, if you're talking about a subdivision with a hundred lots, you can find comparable lands of this lot. They are never quite the same but they're very close. But in this kind of a deal, they were very, very tough to do. I was ‑‑ read about that and I thought that's a good job that I don't have.
Section 12: KAREN BREWSTER: It was very controversial, you're right. But I'm wondering back on the lands that you selected when you said you determined they had value, you know, it was in a township or, you know, they were going to expand, how did you decide those were going to be worth something? How did you know that?
HERB LANG: Well, there was a demand for it. I mean, and BLM was responding to the demand. And that we just ‑‑ just the fact it was right there. And the fact there was a demand for the land, you know, gave it value. So that was pretty easy to ‑‑ to make that determination. And it proved to be right because the demand for it and the value, that's kind of why they took it away. Proved us right. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah.
I just have one final, final question. You've got your Grandpa Herb cup there, and it reminds me of the generations to come. And do your kids or grandkids ever ask you about your role in this? HERB LANG: No. No. It's just ‑‑ my role in this kind of just disappeared. I mean, we all did something at one time or another, and it was just part of what we ‑‑ what we did. We stick with ‑‑ well, particularly with the boys, we stick with hunting and fishing stories.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I ‑‑ I sure appreciate the effort you put in and the job you did. HERB LANG: It was an interesting time, interesting challenge. And then ‑‑ then I moved on. I wanted ‑‑ I wanted to move over to private enterprise. And I had enough years with the ‑‑ with the State and Territory, and I was going to try something ‑‑ try something on my own, and it kind of worked. BILL SCHNEIDER: Good. Well, thank you very much. KAREN BREWSTER: I have one more question. HERB LANG: Okay.
Section 13: KAREN BREWSTER: My last question is, you brought up that at the time the idea of a trust was somewhat controversial and there was discussions back and forth. If you could talk a little bit more about that, and who ‑‑ who ‑‑ who were those conversations ‑‑ who was having those conversations? You know, what was wrong with the trust?
HERB LANG: I think some of the legislators found the trust inconvenient. It frustrated them in what they wanted to do. And so whether they got a legal opinion, and we all know you can get legal opinions of convenience, whether they got a legal opinion at that time or not, I don't know, but they ‑‑ it was not convenient to them. So they ‑‑ they chose to ignore it.
The ‑‑ you know, they also disposed of a lot of the school lands, the Sections 30 ‑‑ 16s and 36s, and I don't think that has ever been a great issue because the state has funded the school system to a fairly good degree. But like the ‑‑ there was a Section 16 right in town here, Merrill Field was on Section 16. And that ‑‑ all that land was leased and developed and we worked on that, and then it went over to the city.
And so it kind of disappeared. And I suspect that a lot of the other school lands were given to the local municipalities or boroughs, but as long as the ‑‑ and it's just my ‑‑ my understanding of it, as long as the ‑‑ the state takes care of the school needs and will fund them, nobody seems to raise an issue about it.
But it was never ‑‑ you know, it was never quite the same. It was ‑‑ they were trust lands, but not ‑‑ not formulated the same way, just like the Section 33s in the Tanana Valley that belonged to the university. Does the university run their own land program up there? BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh‑hum. HERB LANG: I think they do.
KAREN BREWSTER: But so the controversial discussion was later on when they were dismantling the trust? HERB LANG: Yes. Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: But when you were in the Lands Office and making those selections right after the Enabling Act, did you get a sense of people thought about this as a concept?
HERB LANG: No. No. I mean, we ‑‑ we were ‑‑ we were not involved. We were not concerned about the policy. We had the ‑‑ we had the instructions, we had the job to do, and we just ‑‑ we just did it.
And we got some grumbling over at BLM. They did all the work and, you know, we're picking all the food off their trees that they've grown. And some of them didn't like that, but they said, well, all right, that's the way it is. We went on forward from there.
And then as I say, a lot of those BLM people, it didn't appear they ‑‑ they slid over to the ‑‑ they had become ‑‑ become Alaskans. It was a threat that they would rotate those guys every two years so that they wouldn't become any ‑‑ they wouldn't become homebodies.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. KAREN BREWSTER: That's it. Unless you have anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't asked you about? HERB LANG: No. No. I think this is an interest program you're doing. I hope this is some help to somebody in understanding how this all came about. BILL SCHNEIDER: Is there some people you think we ought to talk to that we ‑‑
HERB LANG: I ‑‑ I think that the people that I knew were involved at that time are all gone. Chipperfield, Rosco Bell, Phil Holdsworth. Joe Keenan came in later. Sal DeLeonados was a ‑‑ he and I ran our ‑‑ ran around in the woods together. But they are all gone. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hmm. All righty. Well, thanks. This has been good. HERB LANG: Very good.