Earlier this month, the Haines Economic Development Corporation announced it would be leading efforts to exchange information with the University of Alaska on a proposed 13,426-acre timber sale in the Chilkat Valley. On Friday, the group held a public meeting on the sale to discuss efforts to engage the university in a productive dialogue and learn more about its plans.
Since June, the university’s Land Management Office has made references to a so-called Haines Action Committee made of local stakeholders. The idea was to create a group to foster dialogue between the community and the university about the sale.
The university hired private consultant Morgan Howard to serve as the community’s point of contact for information on the sale. Howard has begun to develop a website for the Haines Timber Project and has started a weekly email newsletter with updates on the progress of the sale.
In September, he traveled to Haines to meet with residents who had expressed interest in creating a local action committee. By the end of Howard’s visit, a local action committee had not been created and it was unclear if the university would play a role in its development.
Since then, the Haines Economic Development Corporation has taken on the task of coordinating community discussion on the sale. At the meeting on Friday, HEDC President Heather Shade explained the role that the organization would be playing.
“We’re simply a response to the sale in hopes of communicating information back and forth between the community and the university and collecting information on potential impacts to the community from the timber sale, whether they be potential opportunities for businesses or the community or potential negative impacts on other industries that we need to plan for and identify,” Shade said.
During the meeting, Haines Residents and members of HEDC spoke about the best way to communicate with the university on issues related to the timber sale.
Some were critical of the tone that had been taken with the university in discussions up to this point.
Haines Borough Manager Debra Schnabel said that the correspondence between the borough and the university up to this point has been confrontational.
“My experience in the communication so far with the university has felt really uncomfortable. It feels like we push, they push back, we push they push back, to the point where we’re hardly talking to each other anymore,” Schnabel said.
Haines resident Don Turner agreed, saying that HEDC had to mend fences with the university.
Others felt that the university had not done enough to address the concerns of the community. Lynn Canal Conservation Executive Director Elsa Sebastian said she felt that the university should have worked to create a working group.
“I am disappointed that the university hasn’t moved forward with helping establish a diverse and balanced working group for the community,” Sebastian said. “I think it might be a benefit if HEDC is working closely with the university just to communicate clearly that there are still folks in the community who would like to see that working group established and would like to see the university take a stronger role in that.”
HEDC Executive Director Margaret Friedenauer raised concerns that the trade war between the U.S. and China may have an impact on the outcome of the sale.
Chinese tariffs on certain U.S. logs started at 10 percent last month and could rise to 25 percent in January, according to several reports.
In a recent email update on the sale, Howard said contract negotiations are months from completion.
“Due to ongoing fieldwork remaining to be completed, the Haines timber project will continue well into 2019,” Howard said. “Following the completion of the field work, we will finish negotiations on a timber contract. Information about the potential buyer will not be made public until negotiations are finalized and a contract is established. Until then, negotiations are confidential.”
Earlier this month the Haines Borough Assembly wrote a letter to the university requesting that it make at least part of the contract public before the board of regents decides whether to approve it or not.
Note: This story has been updated as more information on the contract negotiations has become available.