The Haines heliski map committee’s deadline came and went this week, but their work is incomplete. And winter weather led to the cancellation of a meeting that could have provided an extension.
By Nov. 30, the heliski map committee was supposed to be through voting on all proposals from Alaska Heliskiing and Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures. Their final recommendations need to be sent to the borough manager for his review. Then it will go to the assembly.
But the committee didn’t finish by its deadline. At a Nov. 28 meeting committee chair Ron Jackson said he would ask for an extension at the assembly meeting the next day, just before the deadline. Assuming it would be granted, the committee scheduled a final meeting for Friday, Dec. 2. But the assembly meeting was cancelled due to snow.
The heliski map committee’s deadline was laid out in a resolution passed by the assembly in September.
“And since we cancelled that meeting, all of a sudden that raised the dilemma of whether or not we should continue without authorization from the assembly to go beyond that date,” says Jackson.
Jackson says it was better to stop now and turn over what they have to the manager, rather than work beyond what the resolution allows. Manager Bill Seward will get the meeting minutes, comments provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and a summary of how the committee voted on each area. Jackson says he and borough planner Holly Smith will be available to answer questions about the meetings.
“I think between the two of us we can represent what the committee, the discussions that took place,” says Jackson. “Between that and all the other information that’s written down.”
They have made it through most of the map amendment proposals. All of Alaska Heliskiing’s changes have been reviewed with notes from Fish and Game, and they’ve all been voted on. But there are still a handful of SEABA proposals that have not been looked at alongside Fish and Game comments. And there is one proposal that was tabled and not voted on.
Committee member Scott Sundberg, who owns SEABA, says he thinks the biggest issue that led to the committee’s failure to meet the deadline was its pace. He says the committee allowed public comment to get out of hand.
“I firmly believe and stated earlier on that the public should be able to comment only after the work of the committee is done for each meeting,” says Sundberg. “As a group we all agreed the excessive comments or back and forth dialogue wouldn’t help the process and that’s not what the committee wanted.”
Sundberg takes issue the process, going back to May, when map amendment proposals were due and the committee was supposed to be appointed.
“Overall I feel like my due process as an industry owner has been violated from the very beginning,” says Sundberg.
Sundberg says he thinks the Assembly had time to get the committee in order by the original date. Instead, the matter was delayed for several months.
“I also feel my rights as a resident of the valley have been violated and that the manager should come out strong in favor of the changes as they are mainly related to safety and commerce,” says Sundberg.
Sundberg’s sentiment about safety is echoed by committee member Sean Brownell, owner of Alaska Heliskiing. He says he hopes the Assembly will look at the map with an open mind and realize many of the changes were made in the name of safety.
Because of those changes, and a give-and-take approach that developed out of conversations between the permit holders, the community, and Fish and Game, the map looks a lot different now than when it started. Several map amendment proposals have shrunk to allow skiing while minimizing impact on wildlife and neighbors.
Jackson says he was encouraged by the way the committee and the community were able to work together, and by what he calls a “good neighbor” approach.
“I would hope that good neighbor thought would continue and it wouldn’t need to be – there wouldn’t need to be so much law written around this,” says Jackson. “It would actually minimize the number of restrictions and conditions that we put, and that the industry would kind of self-adjust to what could be a good neighbor proposal.”
Committee member Meredith Pochardt also says the group made a lot of progress. But, she says she doesn’t think the current cycle of adjusting the map every three years should continue. Instead, she says the borough should put together a final map and enforce it.
Seward will now review the committee’s work before making his recommendation to the assembly. His deadline is Dec. 13.