Juneau Deputy Mayor Merrill Sanford wants the city to pull its support for the Tongass Futures Roundtable.
Sanford believes the roundtable has changed direction since the assembly passed a resolution backing its work in 2007. Most logging advocates left the group earlier this year, and Sanford says he’s no longer comfortable giving it the city’s blanket support.
“If they wish to come before us and ask for approval on some topic, that’s fine with me. But I can’t sit here as an assembly member any longer and let this move forward in a different direction than what we thought it was going to be,” said Sanford.
The Tongass roundtable is a group of stakeholders that came together five years ago in an attempt to find consensus in the often contentious public policy debates surrounding the nation’s largest national forest. It includes the US Forest Service, conservation groups, and Native organizations, including regional Native Corporation Sealaska. Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is the group’s facilitator.
At this week’s assembly meeting Sanford made a motion directing the city attorney to draft a resolution rescinding the assembly’s earlier declaration of support. Botelho recused himself from discussion, because he felt his role as facilitator presented a conflict of interest. Reached by telephone Tuesday while out of town on business, Botelho declined to comment.
Sanford’s motion passed unanimously. But Assembly member Karen Crane expressed concern that the city not ditch its support for the roundtable without a thorough review.
“I don’t know enough about it to say yay or nay at this point,” Crane said.
The assembly’s 2007 resolution supporting the roundtable was approved unanimously, and signed by Sanford, who was deputy mayor at the time. The largely symbolic declaration talks about the effort to create a “steady, reliable, and predictable” timber supply to “support an integrated manufacturing industry.” It also discusses protecting “watersheds with important values” and “maintaining the natural values and ecological integrity of the forest.”
Earlier this year the State of Alaska and timber industry representatives quit the roundtable, citing its inability to increase logging in Southeast Alaska. Representatives of Petersburg, Wrangell, Craig and Coffman Cove also pulled out of the organization. In its place the Parnell administration formed a state Timber Jobs Task Force that includes no representatives from the conservation community.