Haines Borough sends comment letter on 13,000-acre timber sale

The Haines Borough is asking for more information about a major timber sale in the Chilkat Valley, recently announced by the University of Alaska.

At a regular meeting Tuesday, the Assembly voted to send a letter to the university prior to a community meeting at the end of April.

The letter drafted by Borough Manager Debra Schnabel reads, “We are challenged to appreciate the enormity of this development and the impact it would have on our community.”

It requests more information specific to the development plan.

“The main thing that I would want to say is we’d like to be stakeholders,” Schnabel said. “There’s the state, there’s the university, there’s Mental Health, and there’s the borough. Why can’t we be part of a four-legged stool instead of a three-legged stool?”

Schnabel writes, “We appreciate that the proposed timber harvest would change the nature of this community forever. For this reason it is right to recognize the Borough as a stakeholder and that the University, Mental Health, DNR, and the Borough engage in frank and sincere discussion toward a win-win outcome.”

In March, the university announced it is negotiating a timber sale on 13,000 acres of its land in the Haines Borough. The 10-year deal is estimated to produce 150 million board feet.

Many residents spoke up, both for and against it, at an Assembly meeting earlier this month.

And, more came forward at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’m here to comment tonight to ask you to please cooperate with the timber sale – the proposed timber sale,” Paul Nelson said. “I believe that this is a very valuable renewable resource. And if we work with the people that have a market for this timber and are promoting it, it can be a resource for generations to come.”

Haines Chamber of Commerce executive director Tracey Harmon said, “The chamber urges the Haines Borough, and the Haines Borough Assembly, to work with the University of Alaska to allow their proposed timber harvest to go through in the borough.”

Jo Goerner asked the Assembly to encourage “responsible” resource extraction.

“There’s any number of issues that clear-cutting can really affect,” Goerner said. “I would just encourage the Assembly, as you are working with the university to do this sale, that you remind them that responsible extraction is far better than this kind of, let’s just gobble it up and send it off into 10 years’ worth of money and after that we’re left with the scars.”

The letter also says, “We want to encourage a partnership that builds community by providing set-aside sales for local entrepreneurs and incentives and investment for local processing of wood product.”

Mud Bay Lumber Company co-owner Sylvia Heinz spoke to that.

“I think that you as an Assembly and you as individuals would benefit by advocating for the local timber industry,” Heinz said. “Because it is economically sustainable, socially sustainable and environmentally sustainable.”

The Assembly voted 5-1 to send the letter. Brenda Josephson was opposed.

She pushed back on some of the details of the letter and spoke about the opportunities the sale could provide.

“A sale of this side that they’re talking about may be what an investor needs to put a chip mill with a long term potential to stabilize the timber industry of Haines,” Josephson said. “This is huge opportunity for Haines. Job training for local youth and forest industry is going to be an awesome benefit.”

An open house with the Department of Forestry and representatives from the University of Alaska is scheduled for April 26 in Haines.

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