In September, the University of Alaska began advertising a 400-acre timber sale near Haines. The location of the proposed sale has drawn concerns from the community. This week, a representative from the University met with the Haines Assembly to address the sale.
“I can’t make you all believers, but I’m here to make you all believers,” said University of Alaska Regional Resource Manager Patrick Kelly. He and representatives from the Alaska Mental Health Trust came to Haines in response to feedback from the borough. The Mental Health Trust also owns land in the area.
Assemblyman Tom Morphet brought up some of the concerns about a timber sale on the Chilkat Peninsula. The area is home to many residential properties.
“Your proposed action could put a potential clear-cut smack in the middle of a residential zone, where residents have been buying and developing properties for the last 30 years under the understanding that such activities such as commercial logging on that scale was not allowed in the area,” said Morphet.
The University proposed the sale after the Haines Planning Commission started discussing whether to restrict resource extraction in Mud Bay. UA owns land there and the activity is not addressed in borough code.
Morphet questioned Kelly.
“Were it not for the borough – the planning commission – pursuing this resource extraction ordinance, would you have brought this sale forward at this time?” asked Morphet.
“Probably not,” said Kelly.
Assembly member Heather Lende questioned whether the timber sale could even happen, based on borough zoning.
“The proposed timber sale is in an area that is a rural residential zone with three acre minimum lot size and no industry, said Lende.”
Members of the assembly asked whether the University has considered the land for a residential subdivision. They pointed to the Letnikof Estates subdivision established in the 1990s.
“It was a way different time,” said Kelly. “1997 we were flush. We had tons of money. Juneau was giving it out in bushel baskets. There was no want in this state whatsoever. This is different.”
But, Kelly didn’t rule a subdivision out. He said the University is considering all its options – from ‘do nothing’ to ‘do everything.’
“The market may not support this timber sale,” said Kelly. “It’s very apparent to me as an individual that all I’ve heard since I’ve been involved in this is clear cut — period. Nothing else has been addressed. But there’s endless opportunities of other ways of doing timber harvests here. Or not.”
And, Kelly said there could be ways to reach a solution that is a ‘win-win’ for both the University and the Haines Borough. For instance, if the borough really wants a residential subdivision to be considered, Kelly said it could build the roads to get there.
“If there’s a concern with the timber, what would really facilitate this? Build the roads,” said Kelly. “That’s how the university gets access to its property. That’s prudent land management, utilizing our resources to get to the win-win.”
Right now, residents who live on the peninsula walk or boat across the bay – depending on the tides.
Many residents have spoken out against the proposed sale. But Assembly member Brenda Josephson said she’s heard from many people in favor of it, and the possible economic opportunity. She turned to her fellow assembly members.
“It is your responsibility to make decisions based on the best interests of the borough,” said Josephson. “Having a tax base and not getting cash for non-development is not in the best interest of the borough – of the taxpayers of the borough.”
Kelly, from the University, says he’s also gotten a lot of positive feedback on the timber sale. But those comments won’t be public until the end of the month. The bid and comment deadline for the sale is Nov. 22.
Comments on the proposed sale can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.