Haines State Forest (Credit: Flickr/~dgies)

(Credit: Flickr/~dgies)

Mud Bay landowners are divided over whether resource extraction should be allowed in their neighborhood. Many residents say they choose to live in the rural residential zone for its quiet, non-commercial nature. But large landowners and small businesspeople say limiting timber harvest on their property would cause economic harm.

One of the big questions here is whether resource extraction is already covered in code. Zoning rules for Mud Bay say ‘commercial enterprise’ is a conditional use. Meaning, anyone who wants to conduct some kind of commercial sale or service on their property needs to apply for a permit. But does resource extraction fall under commercial enterprise?

“It appears to me that what we’re talking about, extractive resources, is already covered in the code,” said Mud Bay resident Katey Palmer.

She was one of several with this opinion: if someone wants to cut down trees on their property to sell, they need a conditional use permit.

But the lawyers for property owner Roger Schnabel disagree that timber harvest counts as a commercial enterprise. Schnabel’s company, Skookum Holdings, owns about 150 acres in Mud Bay. He recently applied for a land use permit to improve an access road, which would involve clearing and selling some trees on the property.

Schnabel’s sister, Debra was recently hired as Haines borough manager. She is working on a process to remove herself from land use decisions regarding her family members.

Roger Schnabel’s application coincides with the Haines Planning Commission’s debate about resource extraction in Mud Bay.

“We have a disagreement here over the language in code and what it means,” said commission chair Rob Goldberg.

Goldberg referred to the letter from Schnabel’s lawyer, Daniel Bruce. Bruce says Skookum Holdings bought the Mud Bay property with the intent to remove and sell ‘small amounts’ of timber and use the proceeds to develop land. He goes on to say that restricting that right would amount to an ‘unconstitutional taking’ and entitle his client to damages.

“I don’t want to describe it in martial terms, but it’s kind of a shot across the bow,” Goldberg said. “You know, ‘if you do this, watch out, ‘cause we’re gonna come after you.’”

Goldberg said the borough needs to get an opinion from its attorney. Planner Holly Smith says she expects one by mid-June.

The University of Alaska and the Alaska Mental Health Trust own hundreds of acres in Mud Bay. Both wrote letters opposing any restrictions on resource extraction.

But it wasn’t just major landowners who were opposed to limitations.

“This has been a really emotional issue for me because close to 100 percent of my family’s income is based on local resources,” said Sylvia Heinz.

Heinz lives in Mud Bay and operates a small sawmill on her property. She and woodworker John Carlson rely on Mud Bay trees for their business.

“This is something that we can all be so proud of,” Heinz said. “Our economy from Mud Bay trees is economically sustainable, it’s environmentally sustainable, its socially sustainable. I don’t think in these economic times we can throw away something that adds so much value to our economy.”

Some Mud Bay residents who voiced opposition to resource extraction said small operations like Heinz’s should be allowed.

“I don’t want to make this a standoff between some people,” said George Figdor. “I think we can work together on this and craft some language that’s going to maintain the integrity and intent of the zone and still allow people to utilize the resources in a very modest way.”

Commissioner Goldberg said there’s no rush to answer this question. He said the current code has stood as is for more than 20 years and no major resource extractions have occurred.