A springtime view of Deer Mountain. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

A springtime view of Deer Mountain. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Deer Mountain was the topic of a series of borough emails this week, with some claiming the Ketchikan Gateway Borough manager had been too helpful toward the Alaska Mental Health Trust.

Deer Mountain is a sensitive subject in Ketchikan, especially right now with potential logging of the iconic site by Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office, which owns the property.

Public outcry was immediate when the Trust Land Office announced it might log Deer Mountain if a federal land exchange isn’t approved by Congress in January.

So, when Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst sent an email Thursday to Alaska Mental Health Trust officials, providing a link to some drone videos of selective logging on borough property, and mentioning how slight the visual impact was of that logging, some took it as too “helpful” to the Trust Land Office.

The email ended up on Facebook, leading to many concerned comments.

Bockhorst said the videos were out in the public anyway, and he thought they might come up during two Nov. 1st public meetings that the Trust Land Office has scheduled in Saxman and Ketchikan.

Bockhorst said his intent was to provide information.

“If I didn’t provide that information to the Trust Land Office, they could potentially come News Tilehere to Ketchikan on Nov. 1st and hear people speaking about these videos that were widely made available, and not had the opportunity to view those videos. So, as far as I’m concerned, what I did was not inappropriate, wasn’t counter to any policy position by the Borough Assembly, but if others feel differently, that’s their perspective,” he said.

Borough Assembly Member Stephen Bradford does feel differently. He said Bockhorst shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to help the Trust Land Office.

“And I think that’s a question that needs to be asked,” he said: “Are the taxpayers who provide Mr. Bockhorst with his fine salary paying him to help the Mental Health Trust in their preparation for that meeting? Or rather should he be fighting for the citizens of the borough who have overwhelmingly stated that they do not want logging on Deer Mountain.”

So, Bradford sent Bockhorst an email later on Thursday expressing concern about that communication. Bockhorst then followed up with a second email to Trust Land Office officials clarifying his intent, and they wrote back.

“It’s clear to me that they never took it otherwise – other than providing them with information,” he said.

Bradford argues that if the videos were out there in the public anyway, there was no need to direct Mental Health Trust officials to them. And, he said, there should not be any comparisons drawn anyway between Blank Inlet and Deer Mountain. For one thing, Bradford said, the parcel at the upper end of Blank Inlet is flat, and Deer Mountain, obviously, is steep and the visual impact of logging would be more obvious.

“But also the uses of the land are so different,” he said. “Deer Mountain provides a watershed that creates a water supply for both Saxman and the City of Ketchikan. Deer Mountain has a heavily used public trail across it. Blank Inlet has none of these items.”

And, Bradford said, the Trust Land Office has said it would consider traditional methods of logging, such as clear cuts, in addition to selective harvest.

Bockhorst said he completely agrees that Deer Mountain cannot be compared with Blank Inlet, and he supports a general planning effort to protect viewsheds in the community.

Bradford said he doesn’t plan to take further action on the email issue.

You can see the borough’s Blank Inlet videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwQoGxWtwKPAiiFuJ_i22Ww