5-mile timber sale raises public concern
An emotion-filled public comment session at the most recent Borough Assembly meeting brought to light concerns about a coming logging operation near the former Wrangell Institute property near 5.25 Mile Zimovia Highway.
The issue first came to light during the March meeting of the Borough’s Planning and Zoning Commission. It was during that meeting that local residents, including Daryl Gross and the family of Mark Armstrong, spoke up against what they perceived as a plan to build a logging road from an Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority property to Zimovia Highway.
The land in question abuts the property owned by Gross.
After being told by the Planning and Zoning Commission that the issue was not within the purview of the Borough, a group of residents brought the issue to the Assembly during their March 26 meeting.
Before public comment could be presented on the matter, Mayor Dave Jack read aloud a statement regarding what he considered misinformation on the matter.
“I requested this item to be placed on the agenda to provide the public with factual information instead of the misinformation and speculation that is taking place now,” Jack said. “There have been statements made that imply that Borough staff is for some unknown reasoning trying to keep this quiet. I believe one comment that was made was ‘sweeping it under the rug.’ It is my contention that borough staff has gone above and beyond any requirement they may have had in regard to this matter.”
During the commission meeting on March 14, a number of residents near the proposed sale inquired why the city had not informed them. At that meeting they were told the city was under no requirement to make notice of any action at the sale site. Jack reiterated the point during the Assembly meeting.
“There were also complaints about a perceived lack of notice by the City. As previously stated, Mental Health advertised by the newspaper and the radio. Any notification by the city would have just been a duplication of effort,” Jack said. “As to individually notifying property owners, which might possibly be affected, the City has no requirement and it is impractical to notify individual property owners of State or Federal actions, which might affect them. There are several items of legislation in the State Legislature at this time that may have an effect on all of us. For City staff to notify every individual of the possible consequences of those items would require them to spend all their time doing notifications of State and Federal actions rather than doing the jobs they are hired to do. I’m sure that most people would not want to see their taxes raised to pay for people to make such notifications.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Darrell Gross was the first to speak out against the possible road.
“We are directly impacted by this road proposal, putting it up there next to our house and (the) Smith house,” Gross said, continuing. “I am against this proposal for a road going in next to our house because it’s in a residential area, for one, and it’s going to be a noise factor for me. I’m going to have to pick up and move and our renters who are right underneath us on the same property have four kids and it’s going to be dangerous.”
Gross added that a road near his property might affect his family’s blueberry and other subsistence food gathering.
“Where they are going to cut all the brush down we have trees that bring antibiotics out of it and we have a duck pond at the back of our property,” Gross added.
After a number of neighbors who live close to Gross spoke out in support of his concerns, former Borough Assembly member and KSTK general manager Mike Symons also added to the discussion by bringing up a previous timber sale at 8 mile – and the inability of the city to dictate the use of state-owned property.
“Maybe your hands are tied, to some degree, but I believe … it is the responsibility of our elected officials to be our voice even when we are not paying attention,” Symons said. “We’ve already seen what these guys have done one time around. I live at 7 mile and get to look at it a lot. Thankfully, they left one little postage stamp of some trees that are probably not of great value. I’m not anti-logging. That’s not the point. I’m talking about logging in our town.”
The city has requested a 100-foot buffer zone around the sale.
“The Borough also (recommended) that Mental Health Land Trust listen to the concerns and requests of property owners, minimize the impact to residents, and leave at least a 100-foot buffer between the sale and nearby property,” Jack said.
The sale area lies at approximately 5.25 Mile Zimovia Highway and, according to the MHTA Request For Proposal, will be accessible from the highway after construction of a new access road. The timber sale includes all standing, down, live and dead timber in the area.
When contacted last month, Alcan owner and operator Brian Brown said that he has heard about the concerns of residents and was looking to put any possible access road closer to, or through, Institute property.
“If I have the choice to put the road somewhere else, for my money, that is what I would like to do,” Brown said. “That’s my plan at this point.”
The city took no action and made no direction to city staff during the meeting on the issue.