Mental Health Trust to Log Deer Mountain Timber if Land Exchange Legislation Does Not Pass
August 29, 2016
The action of the trustees in Anchorage on August 24, 2016 follows 10 years of efforts to complete an administrative land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service. The conditional sale was approved because the potential loss of a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska threatens to render these parcels valueless to the Trust if they are not marketed soon.
Facing a costly uphill battle on the land exchange and an imminent closure of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority board of trustees concurred with the advancement of two negotiated timber sales on Trust land near Ketchikan and Petersburg. The Trust Land Office will move forward with these sales after January 15, 2017, if legislation has not been passed by Congress at that point.
Introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski in May 2016, S3006 directs the Department of Agriculture to move forward with a land exchange with the Trust. The land outlined in the exchange is detailed in an Agreement to Initiate signed by both the Trust Land Office and United States Forest Service on June 30, 2015, and is a result of a 10-year process that had significant stakeholder input. The exchange includes approximately 18,000 acres of Trust land near Wrangell, Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, and Juneau for approximately 21,000 acres of Forest Service land on Prince of Wales Island and land near Shelter Cove.
“The board did not make this decision lightly. We understand the concerns of area communities, but our overriding responsibility is to Trust beneficiaries throughout the state. The Trust must use our land and resources to meet beneficiary needs. We cannot allow our land to lose value or sit idly while our only opportunity to gain value from our land is lost," said Russ Webb, chairman of the board
Webb said, "Our preference is to get S3006 passed to approve a land exchange that would accommodate the broader community and environmental interests we have learned about during our 10 years of developing a proposed exchange. But, if that isn't possible we have protect the value of assets to fulfill our duty to Trust beneficiaries for the long- term.”
Webb said, “We have been pursuing an administrative exchange for 10 years. That process has proven not to be viable - it could take another 10 years and would cost the Trust more than these two parcels will produce even if it fails. Meanwhile, the timber industry has declared it is nearing its end in Southeast. If there is no timber industry there will be no market for our timber and our land will have no value to beneficiaries." He said, "The revenue produced from these two timber sales has the potential to be more than $5 million and will have a direct benefit on our beneficiaries for years to come."
"Trustees concluded we have no viable options," said Webb, "if legislation requiring an exchange does not pass. We are obligated to move forward with the best decision to protect our assets and produce revenue for our beneficiaries while we still can.”
According to an August 22, 2016 fact sheet developed by the Trust, the exchange is of great benefit because it protects viewsheds of the inside passage, preserves recreational trails, ecosystems services, and certain stands of old growth timber near large communities, preserves viable community economies in the communities on Prince of Wales Island, preserves and creates jobs, and provides revenues to support the Trust’s mission.
The Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act of 1956; which evolved into the Alaska Mental Health Trust was created to provide revenue to help pay for comprehensive, integrated mental health services in Alaska. This mission is even more critical during the current Alaska fiscal crisis, according to the Trust.
The Trust Land Office is a unit within the Department of Natural Resources that is contracted exclusively by the Trust to manage its approximately one million acres of land and other non-cash assets to generate income.
Alaska Mental Health Trust Parcels for Exchange - Petersburg Area
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, through revenue earned from its land, natural resources and cash assets supports programs for Alaskans with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, traumatic brain injuries, and substance abuse disorders.
Timber is a major component of the Trust Land Office (the entity that manages the Trust’s non-cash assets) portfolio and has provided more than $43 million in revenue to the Trust over the last 20 years.
The Trust, on average, grants approximately $20 million annually to various nonprofits, state agencies, projects and activities that promote long-term systems change, including capacity building, demonstration projects, funding partnerships, and other activities that will improve the lives and circumstances of Trust beneficiaries.
The next full Board Of Trustees Meeting is scheduled for September 7th from 08:15 am – 04:15 pm. and September 8, 2016 from 08:30 am – 04:30 pm. The meetings will be held at The Trust Authority Building, 3745 Community Park Loop in Anchorage, Alaska 99508.
Trust bylaws call for a public comment period during all regular meetings of the full board of trustees to allow individuals to inform and advise the board about issues, problems or concerns.
The Trust is overseen by a seven-member board of trustees. Under Alaska statute, trustees are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the Legislature. The appointments are for five-year staggered terms. When a trustee's term expires the individual continues to serve until re-appointed and reconfirmed by the Legislature or until a new trustee is appointed and confirmed. The board must meet at least four times each fiscal year.
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Reporting & Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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