The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has notified the Forest Service of an investigation into allegations of misrepresented and omitted pertinent information from its application for permission to store logs from the Tonka Timber Sale during log transfer to Klawock.
DEC’s letter requires the Forest Service to respond in writing by Dec. 19 and was prompted by a request by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm on behalf of its client, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council in early October.
“We strongly support the actions DEC’s has taken to protect the credibility and integrity of its permitting process,” said Buck Lindekugel, an attorney for SEACC.
The intermittent storage of log raft bundles in Alexander Bay in Wrangell Narrows, which is also called “The Pothole,” has been a significant source of controversy since the Tonka Timber Sale, approved by Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole in March.
The area inside and around the Pothole is important for commercial crabbing, and log storage is known to negatively affect the seafloor and crab populations.
“By unnecessarily and aggressively advocating log rafting instead of barging, the Forest Service stoked conflict between loggers and fishermen. A permit to raft and store logs over productive crab grounds did not need to be part of a successful Tonka timber sale,” said Bob Martin, SEACC member and Pothole crabber.
Following review of the state’s permit record, and records unearthed from the Tonka planning record, SEACC and Earthjustice allege that the Forest Service were less than honest with DEC by claiming that barging doubled the cost of log transport when it only increased the cost by 5 percent, by telling DEC there was “no available upland storage anywhere on the road system,” after it had chosen to develop a 5-acre log sort yard as part of this timber sale project, allowing DEC to rely on an assertion that 1-1.5 billion board feet of logs had been stored at Pothole in the past, when the Forest Service estimated that only 150 to 250 million board feet had ever been stored in Alexander Bay.
Cole said his office is looking into the allegations made by SEACC.
“We’re in the process of looking at what they have said, versus what we have submitted to the state,” Cole said. “Alexander Bay has been used for log storage for years and, in fact, the last timber sale we had on the site, the bay was used specifically to store logs.
Adding that the USFS has been trying to work within the strictures of the State of Alaska in gaining the proper use permits for the bay, Cole said he has also developed an alternative site for the offloading of logs.
“Between the last timber sale and now the state changed their designation of the site, so for over two years we have been trying to work to get the necessary permits to use it. To be quite frank, it has been an arduous venture, and has provided so much information over time, that we could have given them information different than what they need. Because it has taken so long and this sale is so critical to the industry, we have started down an alternative path.”
The location of the alternate site, according to Cole, is located on Lindenberg Peninsula and can utilize beach access to store logs until they are ready to be barged out of the area.