SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Agreement Beginning of Land Exchange Process


July 13, 2015
Monday AM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - The U.S. Forest Service-Trust Land Exchange took a another step toward becoming a reality when representatives from the Forest Service and Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (Trust) recently signed an Agreement to Initiate (ATI).

The agreement provides a roadmap to exchange land between the Trust Land Office, which manages lands for the Alaska Mental Health Trust, and the Forest Service. The ATI is similar to a business plan and illustrates the land exchange process.

The Forest Service would take over the management of approximately 18,000 acres of Trust land adjacent to the communities of Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, and Ketchikan. In exchange, up to 21,000 acres of National Forest System lands would be conveyed to the Trust.

“The signing of the Agreement to Initiate is a milestone in a lengthy 10-year discussion process,” said John Morrison, Acting Executive Director for the Trust Land Office. “The administrative land exchange proposal was developed in collaboration with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Forest Service, and variety of stakeholders and communities throughout Southeast Alaska.”

Although a federal land exchange can be a time-consuming and arduous process, the Tongass National Forest supervisor calls this collaborative exchange a win for all involved.

“The lands that the Trust wants to convey to us are located adjacent to several Southeast Alaska communities,” Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart explained. “The transfer could allow us to increase recreational opportunities for forest users. It also could enhance and complement the use of areas that are already being managed for the public.”

The lands that would be conveyed to the Trust are located in areas more suitable for development, said Stewart. “The National Forest System lands are not located in scenic view-sheds and are comprised of uneven-aged forests so the Trust would have a better opportunity to manage those areas.”

John echoed the Tongass supervisor’s remarks.

“We are committed to fulfillment of the mandate to generate income, from Trust lands, to improve the lives and circumstance of Trust beneficiaries,” said Morrison. “Our goal is to utilize forest and other resources managed in perpetuity to provide healthy ecosystems, strengthen local community social structure; and regionally, generate robust, diversified economies.”

The Agreement to Initiate (ATI) is the beginning of the land exchange process. The general public and forest users will have a chance to voice their desires and determine if the exchange will be in the public interest through the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process.

“The ATI will serve as a general guide,” said Lands Specialist Hillary Woods, a member of the Alaska Lands Team for the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. “It is an important first step that kick starts the exchange process and begins to move it forward, but there is more work to be done including public scoping and involvement, NEPA analysis, environmental reporting, final boundary line survey, final title commitments, and appraisal services.”

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority owns land because prior to statehood, Alaska did not have a mental health system .People with any sort of mental disability who were unable to care for themselves or who could not be cared for by a family member or guardian were charged and convicted as “an insane person at large” and sent by the federal government to a mental hospital in Oregon at Morningside Hospital, a private institution. By 1942, more than 2,000 people from Alaska, including very young children, were residing there.

In 1956, Congress passed the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act, entitling the Territory of Alaska to select one million acres of federal land to be used for revenue generation to support mental health services after Alaska became a state.

The Trust Land Office is a unit within the Department of Natural Resources that is contracted exclusively by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to manage its approximately one million acres of land and other non-cash assets to generate income.

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


On the Web:

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (Trust)


Source of News:

U.S. Forest Service


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