The Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office will not pursue timber sales at controversial sites in Petersburg and Ketchikan – at least for now.
The trust had planned for sales at what’s known as Petersburg P-1, as well as Ketchikan’s Deer Mountain. Both met with community opposition.
Deputy Director Wyn Menefee said the trust land office will focus instead on trading those and other parcels for Tongass National Forest timberlands.
Bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate call for that exchange — and to speed up the process.
“While we’re pursuing this exchange we’re not pursuing any sort of timber harvest activity on Petersburg P-1 or Deer Mountain. We are fully trying to get this exchange through,” he said.
The organization’s board meets Jan. 25 and 26 in Juneau.
The board packet includes a memo from land office Executive Director John Morrison. He said he’s confident the needed legislation will pass Congress this year. Bills authorizing the exchange failed to pass last year.
Menefee said a bill with nearly identical language must also be approved by Alaska’s Legislature.
“The ideal situation is we come out of the Congress efforts and have a federal bill enacted sometime by this summer and then likewise if we can get it through the state Legislature this … spring and get an approval, then those two marry up. We can start putting the exchange in place,” he said.
That’s a very tall order. Federal land legislation usually passes only as part of a larger measure with a dozen or more other bills added in. That makes them more controversial.
But Menefee is optimistic. And he said timber sales won’t automatically be pursued if the legislation fails.
“If anywhere in the future … the whole exchange falls apart, we would come back to the board and we would speak to the board in a board meeting before pursing any timber harvest contracts,” he said.
The Mental Health Trust Land Office announced last summer that it planned to move forward with timber sales on the two sites if exchange legislation wasn’t approved by this month.
After public outcry and questions about the office’s decision-making process, that plan was delayed.
The Petersburg property is on a steep hillside above Mitkof Highway south of downtown. Residents say logging would make landslides, which have occurred in the area, more likely to happen.
Landslides are also a concern at the Ketchikan property, which is behind a residential area. It’s above the water supply for the adjoining town of Saxman. Opponents also say planned clear-cuts would be unsightly and hurt the tourism industry.
The two properties, plus other land trust property in Sitka and Juneau, would be traded for remote parcels of federally owned land on Prince of Wales Island and near Ketchikan.
KRBD’s Leila Kheiry contributed to this report.