Petersburg Pilot -

Homeowners seek meeting records of AMHTA

 


Suzanne Wood, co-founder of Mitkof Highway Homeowners Association, on Sept. 1, sent a letter to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority seeking records for the 11 August 2016 Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s Resource Management Committee Meeting and Executive Session and for the 24 August 2016 AMHTA Board of Trustees Special Meeting.

The documents, according to the letter, “are necessary for us to ascertain how the Trust could transition from the ongoing and forward-moving AMHTA-US Forest Service administrative land exchange process to suddenly imposing a 15 January 2017 deadline related to Senator Lisa Murkowski’s S3006; even though the 114th U.S. Congress has not yet passed the bill out of committee, nor obtained approval by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, or President.”

West notes that Trust Bylaws, specifically Article V-Meetings state reasonable public notice of Trust Authority and Committee meetings shall be provided in accordance with AS 44.62.310. Meetings of the Trust Authority and its Committees are subject to the Open Meetings Act, according to the letter.

The Homeowners Association points out that the Mitkof Highway corridor is located below demonstrably unstable Trust hillside parcels mapped as an “inhabited landslide hazard area” by the Alaska Board of Forestry’s Landslide Science & Technical Committee, whose findings should be known by the Trust Land Office. The letter included a map showing the Petersburg hillside AMHTA parcels, from 3-Mile to 7-Mile above Mitkof Highway.

West documented prior landslide information in her letter. “The Mitkof Highway Homeowners Association (MHHA) had, since early December 2005, communicated with Trust Board Trustees and Trust Land Office (TLO) personnel our very real public safety concerns, based on four prior landslides, two occurring in 1986 and two in 1988 on the steep slopes above our homes and property, Mitkof Highway (State Highway #7). Those slides had blocked traffic, downed power lines and telephone lines, and one had even forced emergency personnel to climb across slide debris to evacuate an apparent heart attack victim.

“Since the TLO presented their timber harvest plan in Petersburg on 12 December 2005, there have been five additional landslides, threshold events occurring on these steep and unstable slopes, in their natural state from 2009 to 2011,” West explained.

The records request seeks a wide-ranging list of documents that would help explain reasons for the Trust’s decision to abandon the land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service.

The Homeowners seek the rationale for completely dropping the administrative land exchange, as detailed in the September 2012 Tongass National Forest and Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Proposed Land Ex-change document between the Trust and Forest Service, and the progress made to date, in favor of a legislative exchange with less than five months as a deadline for S3006 passage as the only alternative to a negotiated timber sale; and the need for such sudden urgency for legislative action when the Trust knows that land exchanges are complicated, and time-consuming, according to the letter.

The Homeowners Association is joined by a grassroots organization in Ketchikan, Save Deer Mountain, in response to a decision by the board of trustees of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to log most of Deer Mountain if Congress does not approve an exchange between the Mental Health Trust Authority and the U.S. Forest Service by January 15, 2017.

Former Ketchikan mayor Bob Weinstein who formed the organization, said: “As someone who for many years has both been involved in public policy and a strong supporter of the timber industry, I am very concerned over the way this decision was made. It appears that the trustees hurriedly called a special meeting to make this decision in a manner that denies a meaningful opportunity for concerned citizens of Ketchikan and elsewhere to be heard. To me, this violates the spirit of the Open Meetings Act.”

“By setting a deadline of January 15, 2017, the Mental Health Trust Authority’s board and staff are being disingenuous, as they know that there is little chance of Congressional action happening in that short of a timeframe,” Weinstein said. “Why? Because Congress-given the election- will have limited legislative days between now and November, there will be a lame duck session in which a land exchange is unlikely to be a priority, and we all know about Congressional gridlock.”

 

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