A representative of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office spoke to the Ketchikan City Council Thursday about plans to potentially log Deer Mountain and a site in Petersburg that sits above residential neighborhoods.
Those plans, announced in August, prompted public outcry in both communities, along with complaints that the decision was made suddenly and without adequate public notice.
Paul Slenkamp is senior resource manager with the Trust Land Office. He said the Trust is required to make money from its resources in order to fund mental health services in Alaska.
“Timber is a major component of the Trust Land Office portfolio. It’s provided more than $43 million in revenue to the trust over the past 20 years,” he said.
Slenkamp said the Trust Land Office doesn’t necessarily want to log Deer Mountain or the site in Petersburg. TLO officials would prefer that a federal land exchange be approved by Congress. But, Slenkamp said, if that exchange doesn’t happen, the Trust needs to make money off the parcels while the timber industry still exists.
Concern over timber operators shutting down prompted Trust officials to declare a Jan. 15 deadline for Congress to approve the land exchange bill – which trades the parcels for less sensitive acreage on Prince of Wales Island. If the bill isn’t approved by then, the Trust will start the process to log the sites.
Slenkamp explained that process, which he said starts with the Trust Land Office writing a best-interest decision.
“The best interest decision requires a 30-day public review – public comment period,” he said. “After the close of this 30-day period, the comments are evaluated and if required, the best interest decision is modified and the commenters are notified. There is then a 20-day appeal period. The TLO has not yet written a best-interest decision.”
In addition, Slenkamp said they have plans to hold public meetings in the next few weeks in Ketchikan and Petersburg. Dates have not yet been set, but he said he expects it will happen closer to the end of October.
“The purpose of these meetings is to discuss the role in providing mental health services, our land exchange legislation, future timber sales and other activities on Trust lands,” he said.
Slenkamp said he is hopeful that the land exchange bill will be approved in time, and the Trust will not have to move forward with logging the sensitive areas in Ketchikan and Petersburg. But, he said, if logging is to take place, it would be selective harvest by helicopter, not clear-cutting.
Also Thursday, the Council voted unanimously to accept the resignation of KJ Harris, who resigned his seat due to health concerns. The Council needs to appoint someone to fill that seat until next October’s regular election.
City Clerk Katy Suiter said she will send letters to anyone who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the last two elections, inviting them to apply. The city also will advertise for applicants for about 10 days. After the application filing period closes, the Council will interview applicants in a special meeting and then choose one to appoint.
Spencer Strassburg, who ran unsuccessfully for Council this year, told the Council during public comment that he plans to apply for the vacated seat.
The City Council’s next meeting is a special meeting starting at 7 p.m. Monday to swear in re-elected Council Members Judy Zenge and Julie Isom.