Chijuk Creek timber sale could prove contentious at Mat-Su Borough Assembly

The Chijuk Creek timber sale has a complicated history. At its next meeting, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly will decide whether to award a five-year contract for logging in the area to Charles Nash. He has held previous contracts on the same land, and a dispute between the borough and Nash ended up in a court settlement in 2008.

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The sale is off Oilwell Road in Trapper Creek. In total, 15,000 acres of trees are available for logging in the contract. The logs would be trucked down Oilwell and Petersville Roads before heading south to Port Mackenzie, and ultimately to China. Assembly Member Randall Kowalke, who says he is one hundred percent in favor of the contract, believes the accompanying lease at the port will help shore up what have been shaky finances. It is estimated that Port Mackenzie would bring in over $900,000 as a result of the contract.

“Finally, the property taxpayers are going to have some relief from the borough’s port, rather than going the other way around,” Kowalke said.

Assembly Member Jim Sykes is opposed to the contract as is, particularly with the way the process is being done. He prefers the borough opening up Chijuk Creek to the normal bidding process as opposed to a negotiated deal.

“This contract, which since it’s being proposed exclusively to one entity, sort of makes it look like a sweetheart deal,” Sykes said.

Sykes contends that it would take the same amount of time to go through the normal bidding process that fulfilling the requirements of this contract will. Sykes is also not happy that the contract skirts the borough’s resource management rules set out in code. He says this sets a precedent for not abiding by those rules in the future.

“It really becomes the law. It throws out the code, and I don’t think we should be doing that,” Sykes said.

Kowalke says this contract is not a sweetheart deal, and that, if it had been completed earlier, could have been handled administratively without the assembly taking a vote. That is because Charles Nash, until this weekend, had an active timber sale contract for the area. Kowalke says, while there have been no threats of legal action, opening the sale to bids now, after months of negotiation, could be inviting another lawsuit.

“I would be seeking legal counsel if you courted me up to the deadline then said, ‘Oh, ok, it’s expired. We need to start over, and you need to bid for this,’” Kowalke said.

Kowalke believes that, along with the continued march of spruce beetles in the area, make logging the Chijuk Creek area a time-sensitive issue.

“This area that we’re involved in is kind of the epicenter of the spruce kill, and it’s growing exponentially….The birch trees in this forest are mature or over-mature.”

Sykes says the beetles are not a reason to rush ahead, citing a presentation made to the assembly by the Alaska Division of Forestry.

“We should not cut beetle-infested trees from now through July, because cutting them now would cause them now will only make them fly more than they would if we left them standing, so we have time to go through an entire bid process,” Sykes said.

In addition to particulars of the contract, many Trapper Creek locals have expressed concern over potential safety issues and the wear and tear on Oilwell and Petersville Roads. Oilwell Road, in particular, is not very wide, and passing logging trucks on it could be problematic. Sykes says the logging trucks will need a space more than twelve feet wide on the road.

“Most of the road is between nineteen feet wide and sixteen feet wide, so if you’re driving anything besides a Le Car, it sounds like you’re going to be in the ditch,” Sykes said.

The “Le Car,” for reference, is a supermini car formerly produced in France.

Kowalke says the contractors will be required to repair any damage to Oilwell Road, and that safety considerations are being made. He says turnouts will be added, and logging trucks will not be allowed to run during the hours that school buses are on those roads. Kowalke believes it’s somewhat ironic that locals are taking issue with logging trucks using a road originally built for that purpose.

“They couldn’t have gotten to their property. Mr. Nash built a logging road, and now they’re asking us not to allow any logging truck traffic to occur,” Kowalke said.

Kowalke, Sykes and their five colleagues are scheduled to make a decision on the contract at Tuesday night’s meeting at 6:00 pm at the assembly chambers in Palmer.

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