Haines Assembly to University: timber sale would go against local code

The Chilkat Peninsula is home to many residential properties. Right now, residents walk or boat across the bay to access the properties. (Abbey Collins)

The Haines Assembly is pushing back on a proposed timber sale on the Chilkat Peninsula. The University of Alaska is offering up 400 acres of land for harvest. But at a meeting Monday, the local government said it will explore its legal options if a contract is awarded.

The proposed sale is located in Haines’ Mud Bay zoning district. It’s a rural residential zone. The assembly argues borough code for that area does not allow for the sale the university is proposing.

Assembly member Stephanie Scott made a motion that says: if UA awards a timber contract in the Mud Bay Rural Residential Zone, the borough will evaluate its legal options. Scott said the sale violates existing provisions for commercial use there. She said the offering goes against the purpose and intent of the code.

Brenda Josephson was the only assembly member to vote against the motion.

“I don’t believe that the law supports. I think we need to do what’s in the best interest of the public in a whole,” Josephson said. “I’m hearing unison of voices from the people that they want this. They don’t want the university to be stopped with borough funds. They don’t want their tax dollars to be spent this way.”

Josephson cited parts of code and the borough’s comprehensive plan that she believes allow for and support this type of sale.

“The University actively manages its land for revenue generation. We acknowledge their active management of their land for revenue generation in our comprehensive plan,” Josephson said. “Our code states any development which existed prior to the implementation of the land use ordinance is a use-by-right.”

Assembly members disagreed on the interpretation of that part of code.

Tresham Gregg asked the University to halt the sale.

“We simply ask that the University withdraw its timber sale and behave as an institution of higher learning, practicing what it preaches by working with our community to develop a beneficial approach to all concerned,” Gregg said. “But especially to those who live here.”

Heather Lende said while the proposed deal shouldn’t be permitted, she does want to work with the university to develop its land in other ways – like a residential subdivision.

“I think it’s best for our citizens that they know that we uphold our oath. And that we will honor the code,” Lende said. “That land owners and property owners know what they can do with their property. I think it would be no more correct to allow lobbying in a rural residential neighborhood then it would be to allow a bed and breakfast in a heavy industrial zone.”

Tom Morphet also spoke out against the UA proposal.

“Large scale commercial logging is not the highest and best use of logging on the peninsula, where there are adjoining homes and development in excess of several millions of dollars,” Morphet said. “My concern is that millions of dollars have been spent building the homes in this zone on the understanding – right or wrong, correct or incorrect, that commercial logging would not be allowed in those areas.”

Morphet argued that the sale as offered would have a one-time value for the university. He said it would take away long-term worth from property owners in the area.

UA Regional Resource Manager Patrick Kelly declined to comment on the assembly’s action.

David Griffin, with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office, voiced that department’s support for the timber sale. The Mental Health Trust also owns land in the area.

The timing of the University’s offering was motivated by a conversation at the Haines Planning Commission about, as it turns out, borough code. That group has been discussing whether to limit resource extraction in Mud Bay, but no action has been taken. Right now, the activity isn’t outwardly addressed in that zone.

At a meeting in Haines earlier this month, UA’s Kelly said the sale probably wouldn’t have been brought forward right now, had it not been for this discussion.

The deadline for bids and comments on the sale is November 22 at 5 p.m.

The University of Alaska’s timber sale area on the Chilkat Peninsula. (University of Alaska)
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