State Representative Sam Kito III visited Haines this week to check in on local concerns. He held public meet and greets, attended a borough assembly meeting, and met with local officials.
“It’s one of the most important things I can do,” Kito said. “Being able to participate in the assembly meetings and listen to what some of the local concerns and issues are gives me a really good flavor for what’s happening in the community.”
Kito’s last visit to Haines was in April, in the middle of contentious state budget negotiations. During that visit, Haines residents voiced their concern about state cuts to areas like DNR Forestry.
“So [it’s] very unfortunate that we lost positions in Haines, especially positions with boots on the ground that are actively managing forestry activities and recreational activities,” Kito said.
The state budget zeroed out funding for Haines’ two-person local forestry office. But DNR reallocated some of their funds to keep one forester on the job for at least nine months out of the year. The other forester lost his job. DNR officials have said that funding for the one position left in Haines is not certain if more state budget cuts are made next year.
“We were told that if there were timber activities that required support that people out of Ketchikan could come up and handle that,” Kito said. “What I’m worried about is there’s more than just timber activities taking place in the forest here in Haines and it needs more active management. So I think we need at least a full-time person here. And we’ll be working on that this next legislative session.”
Kito says one local ongoing issue he is trying to help with is the need for improvements along Chilkoot Lake Road, where bear viewing is popular and congestion is a problem.
“I’ve spent some time working with the Department of Natural Resources and gave a report to the assembly last night on some of the work we’ve done so far on trying to bring DNR and DOT together to try and address right-of-way issues to allow the bear-viewing platforms to move forward and it seems like we’re making some progress on that,” Kito said.
Kito says improvements DNR wants to make along the road conflict with DOT right-of-way standards. DOT currently owns the road, but transferring ownership to DNR would allow for construction of bear-viewing platforms and additional parking. DOT Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says DNR and DOT have not come to an agreement on how much of the roadway would be transferred.
Kito says his goal is to have a transfer agreement between DNR and DOT complete by the end of the year.
During his next visit to Haines, Kito hopes to check in with local fishermen about fisheries issues. He also plans to tour Constantine Metal Resources’ Palmer Project.
Kito is a Democrat in the Alaska House of Representatives. He represents Haines, Skagway, Klukwan, Juneau, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet.