Petersburg Pilot -

Assembly requests suspension of timber sale contracts

 


The Petersburg Borough Assembly joined the City of Kupreanof in sending a letter to the University of Alaska President requesting the suspension of contract finalization for timber sales on South Mitkof Island.

The first timber sale is located adjacent to Banana Point and the Wilson Creek Recreation Area and the other is along the Wrangell Narrows across from Keene Island.

“These timber sales will likely result in the increase of severe landslide potential, loss of critical deer winter range, and visual impacts to the Wrangell Narrows Scenic Byway, which are but some of the issues of vital importance to our borough’s rural residents and elected representatives,” the letter states.

The letter also claims the Board of Regents (BoR), the body responsible for approving the University of Alaska timber sale, made the decision in “the absence of a meaningful public process.”

Many Petersburg Borough residents spoke during the assembly’s May 19 meeting in support of and against the timber sales. Many of the public’s comments were related to logging. Individuals in favor of logging touted its economic importance, and those against logging cited the negative environmental effects caused by the timber industry—including increased landslide risk documented by governmental agencies and independent researchers.

Dave Kensinger said he was not making a claim either for or against logging but urged the assembly to consider other uses of the land, specifically along the Wrangell Narrows, that might be more profitable for the University and the borough.

“The thing about this property is, it’s level, it’s next to the beach and, most important, it has all weather access,” Kensinger said. “There is not another parcel in the entirety of Southeast Alaska that has similar characteristics. This is a valuable piece of property.”

He said the university might be overlooking the amount of income it could receive through selling the land and that the borough could profit from eventual homes that will likely be built.

“It’s a sizeable amount of money that will be left on the table,” Kensinger said.

U.S. Forest District Ranger Jason Anderson encouraged the assembly to review a Forest Service environmental analysis that will come out later this summer before it takes a position on the timber sales.

“I think you’ll find, while generally speaking there are areas over-steep in slopes that have some risk of landslide, it’s the site specific information when you go out and walk the ground that dictates whether or not that risk is high or low,” Anderson said.

Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter supported the letter. He said while he’s not anti-logging he did have concerns about landslides and logging operations that don’t necessarily benefit Petersburg economically.

“I think there should be other things that we should explore instead of hastily throwing the timber away, sending it overseas and not keeping those jobs in Petersburg and us dealing with the fall out,” Wohlhueter said. “I do not want it on my head, if we have a landslide someplace and one of my citizens gets killed.”

Vice Mayor Cindi Lagoudakis, although she voted against sending the letter, said she would like the university to be more accountable to the public.

“I would like to know that the university did consider the slide hazard,” Lagoudakis said. “I would support providing a letter that said we would request that in the future the university would have an approved and more open public process. It’s really difficult to know what they did consider and what they didn’t consider.”

There are no minutes available that provided details of the BoR discussion regarding the timber sales.

The assembly voted 4-3 to send the letter.

Assembly Member Bob Lynn, Mayor Mark Jensen and Lagoudakis voted against sending the letter.

Interview requests to President Patrick Gamble and Regent Fuller Cowell went unreturned by press time.

University of Alaska Associate Vice President Kit Duke said the university has followed BoR policy regarding public input and safe management practices. She said the Wrangell Narrows East Timber Sale will be helicopter harvested and that 20 percent or less of trees in that location will be removed.

In response to questions regarding other potential uses of the land, such as a sale, Duke said she is charged with creating an ongoing revenue stream.

“When you sell, of course, you’re done,” Duke said. “You don’t have an opportunity to make any more money from the land. It’s important to generate revenue. That’s what I’m trying to do in a responsible, sustainable fashion. I want to do this well. If we’re going to go harvest timber, we’re going to do it with the best practices that exist.”

In a letter to Jensen and Kupreanof, Mayor Dana Thynes Duke wrote that she sees “no compelling justification for sale cancellation and we intend to proceed.”

 

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