UA Board of Regents discuss approval process for Chilkat Valley timber sale plans

Forest Ranger Jason Anderson, left, University of Alaska Land Management Director Christine Klein, USFS Forester Chris Maisch and Mental Health Land Trust Executive Director Wyn Menefee respond to questions at the timber sale open house. (Photo by Henry Leasia/KHNS)

The University of Alaska’s Board of Regents will review plans for a proposed timber sale in the Chilkat Valley.

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The decision on whether the board would approve the development and disposal plan for the sale was postponed at a meeting last month.

University of Alaska announced in March it was working toward a timber sale on 13,400 acres of land in the Haines Borough. The proposed 10-year negotiated sale would produce 150 million board feet.

The Facilities and Land Management Committee for the University’s Board of Regents met at the end of May to review the proposed timber sale.

Some regents raised concerns about the lack of information on the proposed sale.

Regent Jo Heckman questioned the university’s policy on the negotiated sale process and stated that the board was being asked to make a decision with inadequate information.

“When you say the brevity of the document is because that is how it is defined in our policy, are we really proud of that policy?” Heckmen said. “It’s hard for us to make a balanced, informed decision when the information is not there.”

No specific details have been provided about what areas of the university’s lands will be harvested and how the timber would be logged.

Vice Chair John Davies suggested that the board seek public comment further along in the negotiations and submit the final contract to the board for approval.

UA Land Management Office Director Christine Klein opposed this idea, saying it could disrupt the sale.

“It could put us in a situation where the buyer looks at other markets instead of this one,” Klein said.

Davies’ recommendation was voted down 2-1 by the committee, but they did not rule out the possibility of discussing it further when the entire board was present.

The University of Alaska provides a public comment period for its timber sales. The deadline for comments on the sale in the Chilkat Valley was extended twice and ended May 22.

Haines Borough Assembly expressed frustration with the university’s public process.

The Assembly sent a letter in May criticizing the format for its open house on the timber sale. Assembly members requested the university address concerns and answer residents’ questions in public rather than individually.

The university’s timber sales have come under scrutiny before for lacking transparency.

During a previous university timber sale on Mitkof Island, the Petersburg Borough and the City of Kupreanof requested the university suspend the finalization of its contract.

In a 2014 letter, the borough claimed that the Board of Regents made the decision in “the absence of a meaningful public process.”

The university has not provided specific information about where and how the buyer would harvest timber in the Chilkat Valley because they are engaged in a negotiated sale.

Not all terms of the sale will be available until negotiations are complete.

At the open house, the land management office explained that a negotiated sale allows them to secure a purchaser and avoid a deal falling through after years of negotiation.

Director Christine Klein said that even though it speeds up the sale process, once it is set they will be able to better address the community’s needs.

“If we do a negotiated sale, which we can lock in at least the interest in the buyer, then there’s room for flexibility to negotiate things that can be done to meet the community’s needs,” Klein said.

The Facilities and Land Management Committee voted at a May 31 meeting to postpone the discussion of the development and disposal plan in order to allow more time for the university administration to provide a full presentation.

The university’s land management office will begin talks with the buyer, UA Public Affairs Vice President Roberta Graham said, if the board approves the plan.

The administration expects to bring essential terms back to the Board of Regents for review and approval.

Graham noted that a vital process for exchange of input and information is being established by the UA Land Management Office and the Haines community through the on-going development of the Haines Action Committee, a local committee of stakeholders.

The Board of Regents will discuss plans for the proposed sale at a special meeting June 19.

A live stream of the conversation will be available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the University’s website.

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