The area approved for heliskiing near Haines has been expanded – slightly. The Haines Assembly this week approved two amendment proposals – totaling just over 200 acres. The assembly took an unusual route to get there.
The assembly was set to vote on a resolution that would have accepted 10 proposed map amendments.
Assembly member Brenda Josephson made a motion to adopt the resolution, but it died for lack of a second. Meaning, the resolution wasn’t adopted, and no changes would be made to the current heliski map – until the conversation was revived later in the meeting.
The assembly had heard from residents asking for no changes.
“I would encourage you to not adopt this resolution at this point,” said Thom Ely. “Let’s wait until the next round in 2019 to revisit any additions to the map.”
“I urge you not to adopt the resolution to open up all these areas,” said Heidi Robichaud.
No one from the heliski industry spoke at the meeting.
Map amendment proposals were submitted in May of last year. In October and November of 2016, an advisory committee met to review requests and submitted recommendations to the assembly. But the assembly delayed its decision on the changes because of questions of conflict of interest and wildlife concerns.
Two of three heliski permit holders submitted map change requests – Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, or SEABA, and Alaska Heliskiing. Owners of both companies held seats on the advisory committee. Neither could be reached by the time this story was reported.
And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was not yet finished with research into goat and brown bear habitat in the Chilkat Valley. That was presented this fall.
Out of sixteen requested changes, 10 received unanimous approval from the advisory committee, prior to the completion of the Fish and Game research.
Borough Manager Debra Schnabel recommended the assembly approve those 10 areas.
After the motion that would have made way for that stopped in its tracks, the conversation was on hold until the very end of the assembly meeting. Schnabel asked for an explanation.
“There should be some comment, it seems to me, to explain to the public and to the industry who has followed a process for over a year and done it exactly as it’s written in code, to have it disappear into the ether. There just needs to be an explanation or something,” said Schnabel.
Assemblyman Tom Morphet says it was clear to him the conversation had to continue beyond the original motion.
“Immediately when that happened I said ‘oh, we have to have this discussion,” said Morphet. “Obviously we’ve had a year of preparation. We’ve had a year of waiting for the Fish and Game studies. We’re the public decision making body. And even when you don’t make a decision, you’ve made a decision.”
He said the only possible time to bring it back up was during assembly comments. The conversation at the end of the meeting went back and forth. Heather Lende said the assembly is now in a position to set up new maps and avoid conflict.
“I think the most prudent thing to do, and the wisest thing to do given the data, is to keep the map as it is for now and encourage the heliski companies and ADF&G to work together and come up with a plan that will provide minimal conflict,” said Lende.
A motion made by Morphet to support the resolution, amended to only include areas AH2-A and S2, received a tie vote. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie in favor of the motion.
AH2-A was requested by Alaska Heliskiing. It’s in the Porcupine and Flower Mountain area, and totals about 35 acres. It’s adjacent to an approved area, completing a run. Fish and Game says there is potential to disturb goats and bears in this area, but it is of less concern than others.
S2 was requested by SEABA as an extension of an approved run to improve safety. It’s near the Rainbow Glacier. Fish and Game says goats are likely to be disturbed here and there is the potential to disturb bears.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Tom Morphet made a motion to not support the resolution with the exception of areas AH2-A and S2. That is incorrect. Morphet’s motion was in support of the resolution, amended only to include these two areas.