Petersburg’s borough assembly and the city council of Kupreanof are asking the University of Alaska to suspend two planned timber sales on Mitkof Island near the two communities in central Southeast. Elected officials in Petersburg Monday narrowly voted to sign onto a letter asking to delay the logging, following public testimony for and against the timber cutting.
The parcels slated for helicopter logging this summer are on the western and southern sides of Mitkof Island, about 14 miles and 29 miles south of downtown Petersburg. They were approved for competitive timber sales this winter by the University’s board of regents and are meant to fund university scholarship and research programs.
The sale plans prompted letter proposed by the city of Kupreanof. Councilman David Beebe urged the Petersburg assembly to sign the letter. He said the stakes were high for consequences of logging timber in the area. “The first consequence is logging on our unstable slopes as they relate to public safety on our highways and at developed highly popular recreational facilities. The second consequence being further loss of critical deer winter habitat necessary for restoring Sitka black tail deer populations which crashed over 40 years ago on Mitkof Island and to this day have yet to be restored.”
The letter asks the University to suspend the finalization of timber sale contracts and provide more information to area residents of potential impacts to public safety, deer habitat and the scenery along the Wrangell Narrows. The topic generated impassioned public input before the borough assembly.
Resident Ed Wood contested a prior proposed Mental Health trust timber sale along Mitkof Highway near his home because of the danger of landslides on the steep slopes. He thought the borough should sign the letter for the university sales because of potential liability. “I think that it is not unreasonable for the assembly to ask the university to suspend their timber sale at least until they put forth their plans to mitigate the increased slide potential related to timber harvest on their property identified as a landslide hazard area for borough review.”
Another borough resident, Dave Kensigner thought it made more sense for the university to sell the land on Wrangell Narrows, instead of only selling the timber. Kensigner pointed out the Wrangell Narrows land was level waterfront property, accessible in all weather conditions. “There is not another parcel in the entirety of southeast Alaska of its size that has similar characteristics. This is a valuable piece of property. The university, their mandate through their land program, is to generate income. My feeling is they have overlooked the amount of income they could receive from this property, through a land sale.”
Others wanted the assembly to steer clear of the letter. George Rice is a retired teacher and owned a boating and logging supply store. He pointed to the history of logging on Mitkof Island’s road system. “Take a careful look at the many benefits, from schools to sewage systems that the city received from these logging operations. This looks like act two of when the Mental Health people wanted to send some timber and it was successfully blocked. Mental health was supposed to trade land with the Forest Service for land at the far end of the island. Obviously, Mental Health, this will not allow you to sell any timber if this group has their way.”
And resident Neva Christensen supported logging the two parcels while defending the profession. “OK, many of you get your living from a natural resource, such as fishing. No one attacks you about going fishing or threatens your livelihood so why pick on people that make their living from a natural resource, such as logging.”
As for the assembly, they were split on the issue. Several assembly members wanted to make clear they were not against logging but wanted more information on the plans and possible impacts.
John Havrilek thought the borough was taking all the liability and getting no economic benefit. “Mostly when the logging operations occur in the recent times, the helicopter company’s out of Portland. They bring in their own loggers. Very few of ‘em come into town so about the only one who makes a buck on it are the bars, at the most. And then all the logs go overseas. So I don’t see any benefit from it, only liability.”
On the other side, mayor Mark Jensen did not want to send the letter. “I’m not going to vote for this, one just because of the way the letter’s written, two because I think we need another source of revenue coming into town even if this is not a big timber sale.” Jensen also thought sending the letter would make a statement of not supporting timber harvests in the area and could discourage mill businesses from moving here.
The vote was 4-3 to send the letter with John Havrilek, Jeigh Stanton Gregor, Kurt Wohlhueter and Nancy Strand supporting it.