Need More Public Input In Planning Process
by Bob Weinstein
June 20, 2004
Dear Mr. Planchon:
I am writing to express concern about the planning process currently being used by the Alaska Mental Health Trust with respect to logging in the Ketchikan area. First of all, I want to note that I am not writing to express concern about logging per se; I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of the timber industry.
However, I feel compelled to write because it is becoming increasingly evident that, like another state agency, i.e. the University of Alaska, which has logged in or near Ketchikan in recent years, the Mental Health Trust has apparently decided to proceed with an absolute minimum amount of public information and involvement, with complete disregard to residents of the City of Ketchikan who might be adversely impacted by the logging plans, and in a manner which will needlessly create concern and controversy.
I would like to recap my concerns as follows. On March 19, 2004, Ketchikan Daily News ran an interview with you about proposed timber sales by the Trust in the Ketchikan area, including at Leask Lakes, Ward Cove, and Gravina Island. Nowhere did the article refer to potential sales in the Bear Valley area. The article noted your desire to sell the Trust's Deer Mountain land to the U.S. Forest Service due to its popularity as a recreational area in Ketchikan, a concept that I and many people here would support. The article also noted that people would have an opportunity to address sale issues at a later date, which if true would have precluded the need for this letter.
It has now come to my attention that the Trust is proceeding on its timber sales, including on a large tract adjacent to: (1) City residential neighborhoods in Bear Valley; (2) the watershed for the City's water supply; and (3) Deer Mountain, and is actively avoiding allowing the public to comment on the sale. Several days ago, at the request of the City manager, City staff contacted your consulting forester, who advised that there might be a public meeting only if a neighborhood is directly impacted, and that the Trust would ultimately do whatever it wanted with its property. With all due respect, a determination as to whether or not there is impact on a City neighborhood is not something which can be made at the sole discretion of the Trust; it is a decision which should be shared with the people of the neighborhood and their elected representatives.
Furthermore, maps provided indirectly to the City indicate that the sales involve land which surrounds Ketchikan Lakes, the sole source of drinking water for City of Ketchikan residents and businesses. It is my understanding that there has been no appropriate study of the impacts of logging on Trust property in the watershed. To the best of my knowledge, Trust staff has not contacted Ketchikan Public Utilities about this specific sale and its potential impact on the watershed. The City believes that it is the responsibility of the Trust to conduct an appropriate environmental assessment with respect to the impacts of logging on the Ketchikan water supply.
Also, depending on location and method, the sale may adversely impact enjoyment by the public who use Deer Mountain, e.g. large clear cuts viewable from Deer Mountain would significantly diminish the recreational value placed by the community and apparently the Trust as well on Deer Mountain.
Finally, it is also my understating that the sale does not contemplate any domestic manufacturing of the harvested timber, which is required for most harvests from state land. It seems that factors which should weigh in the decision in this regard include those which are purely economic for the Trust as well as those which make most economic sense for the community. With respect to the former, it is my understanding that the market difference between having no domestic manufacture requirement and having such a requirement has greatly diminished, so that exporting logs in the round may not net the Trust substantial value. With respect to the latter, it seems that contributing to the economic health of the community would also be of benefit to the mental health of residents, thus lessening the need for services paid by the Trust.
The March 19 article indicates that your proposed sales are based upon an assumption that the Trust must harvest all of its timber within the next 5-7 years or face a significant loss of value. My sources in the timber industry have a different opinion. If the assumption of the Trust is true, why aren't there parallel processes at this time by the Trust to harvest all of its timber in Sitka, Juneau, and other forested holdings in the state? I am requesting that this basic assumption be reviewed and adjusted based upon all available information, including consideration of value which can be added locally through ongoing improvements in processing capability.
Also, as you know, Ketchikan is trying to diversify its economy and recover from the decline of the timber industry. An important part of that recovery is the tourism industry. Over the years I have received numerous negative comments from visitors about a University sale which was inappropriately located and designed in Tongass Narrows without any regard to protect viewsheds. To date, other than Deer Mountain, we know of no efforts by the Trust to explore a land sale or exchange with the Forest Service for federal lands on which timber harvest will not adversely impact the tourism industry.
I understand that, on June 9, you were contacted by City staff seeking more information on the sale. We were advised that the only information available at this time is sale boundaries, but no specific information on where or how logging would occur within those boundaries. Based upon that conversation, our understanding is that you do not intend to have any public meetings in Ketchikan prior to the approval of the sale.
This letter is to specifically request that, prior to the execution of any contract for timber harvest in the Bear Valley area, the Alaska Mental Health Trust:
In sum, I want to make sure that timber harvest by the Trust does not diminish local property values (and recurring property taxes received by the City) nor other sectors of the economy. I also want to assure that Ketchikan's water supply will not be harmed by activities on Trust lands.
In closing, I am aware of the "mission" of the Trust. While you may have a requirement as noted in the March 19 newspaper article for "undivided responsibility to beneficiaries," I have an undivided responsibility to my community.
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