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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly supports timber sale in special meeting

 


The City and Borough of Wrangell has officially endorsed a plan being put forward by the United States Forest Service concerning future timber sales on the island.

In a special meeting on July 15, the Borough Assembly gave its input on a letter of support being drafted by economic development coordinator Carol Rushmore. A final copy was formally submitted to the Wrangell Ranger District on Monday, the last day of the public comment period for its Wrangell timber sale’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The DEIS puts forward five alternatives for a Wrangell sale, with the agency-preferred Alternative 2 proposing the harvest of 65.1 million board feet (MMBF) on 5,309 acres of land over a 10-year period.

While overall supportive of the sale, the city’s letter expressed several concerns with the DEIS. One dealt with the timing of the draft’s release, coming out for review during the middle of summer. Citing it as “our busiest economic time,” the letter noted that many of the people to be most directly affected by the sale are currently out of town and unlikely to have the web service, which would be needed to access DEIS documents and submit comments.

Discussing Alternative 2 at Friday’s meeting, Assembly members also shared opinions on how the sale may impact local industry. Much of the timber would be selectively harvested, which for a number of units would require extraction by helicopter. This sort of work would likely limit work to larger-scale logging concerns.

“We were really looking for long-term, sustainable logging that would support businesses in the community,” commented member Stephen Prysunka. In particular, he did not want to see the sale result in short-term export logging, a point which was reflected in the city’s letter.

“The Borough supports the Proposed Alternative 2 in order to NEPA approve the maximum timber available,” it reads. “We hope that this will provide opportunities in the future for local business opportunities and job creation that can be sustained over a longer period of time.”

The letter points out several other suggestions, including the addition or reopening of additional roads, and several clarifications. Among the latter, it notes the DEIS does not mention the city had withdrawn as a cooperating agency due to disagreements over the plan’s preparation.

Comments submitted to USFS will be taken into consideration by Tongass National Forest supervisor Earl Stewart before a final decision is handed down, likely in September. The release of that decision will initiate an objection period, which is open only to those who had already submitted a comment.

“I think it’s still a place to get our two cents in,” Wrangell manager Jeff Jabusch said of the letter. Its submission will allow the city to continue to provide input as the plan is reviewed moving forward.

The DEIS and associated road and unit cards are available for review online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=34831. Paper copies are also available at the Wrangell Ranger District. The city’s letter is available to view at http://www.wrangell.com.

In other business on Friday, the Assembly decided to reject a proposed ballot initiative altering the Municipal Code’s $1,000,000 threshold for sales and leases of public property, as outlined in section 5.10.030. All transactions at or above that amount must be put to a public ballot before proceeding.

Assembly member Julie Decker had requested changing the item, suggesting delays could prove dissuasive for a number of upcoming projects, including potential development at the Institute or Silver Bay Logging Company mill sites. If approved, the suggested change would itself be put to popular vote on October’s ballot.

Assembly member Mark Mitchell did not favor a change, expressing the opinion such items ought to go to a vote.

“There’s pros and cons to that,” he noted, but concluded residents should be given the opportunity to weigh in.

Assembly member Becky Rooney noted the cost of holding a vote was relatively small, and could easily be made a part of such sizable sales.

“It’s $4,000. When you’re talking a million, $4,000 is not an awful lot,” she said.

Jabusch also pointed out that a special election could be held in relatively short notice, and that such projects seldom needed a snap decision. After discussing its options, the Assembly ultimately voted against the measure by four to three.

The Assembly then broke into executive session to discuss the possible sale of its belt freezer machinery at the boatyard. The item was approved to be sold as surplus in April along with other fish processing equipment, originally acquired by state grant and leased for a time to Trident Seafoods. A minimum bid was set for the item at $9,832, with any proceeds to go either toward fishing-related activities or the planned Mariners Memorial.

Prior to the session, Decker brought up her business connections to Trident as a possible conflict of interest, which was dismissed by Mayor David Jack as having no bearing on the immediate item.

In a separate special meeting held Tuesday afternoon, the Assembly approved a contract bid for paving the barge ramp with concrete. Local contractors BW Enterprises supplied the lowest of two bids, at $122,091.06. Rainforest Contracting of Petersburg submitted the other bid, which came in at $179,060 and included a $29,420 modification. Harbormaster Greg Meissner explained that a sizable portion of the $57,000 difference between the two was due to mobilization costs.

After a brief discussion, Assembly members approved awarding the contract to BW Enterprises. Funding for the project, which includes the

placement of nearly $82,000 worth of concrete, will come from capital funds set aside by the Harbor Department. It had initially budgeted $125,000 for the project.

 

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