Committee chosen to oversee heli-ski map boundaries
Sixteen residents and two heli-ski companies have submitted proposals to the Haines Borough regarding alterations to the heli-skiing map.
Residents who submitted proposals were entered into a drawing to determine which resident would represent the public on a five-member map committee.
The committee will meet at noon for the next three Fridays to discuss the proposals. Suggestions range from increasing the allowable area of operation, closing off certain sections near residences, and retaining existing boundaries.
The committee is comprised of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures co-owner Scott Sundberg (the randomly-selected industry representative), Dave Long (the randomly-selected member of the public who submitted a proposal), Daymond Hoffman (Parks and Recreation Committee member), Barbara Mulford (Tourism Advisory Board member) and Randy Bachman (Department of Fish and Game representative).
Sundberg said he is “optimistic” about the committee and new map amendment process, which was established by ordinance last November. “I think the administration was looking for a way to condense the information and have it be presented to them instead of them having to be part of the longer process, which tends to take a lot of time. And they have other issues they need to handle,” Sundberg said.
Sundberg’s proposal includes the adjustment of boundary lines to lower elevations in the Pyramid Valley and the Kicking Horse Valley, as well as reopening of the Haska Creek area.
Long, representing the public, also is advocating for expansion of the Haska Creek, Pyramid River, Kicking Horse River, Walker Lake, and Takhin Ridge areas.
Long wrote he would like to see increased visibility of commercial skiing for his kids and community members, and that expanding the areas would give commercial operators more options to provide customers with a better user experience.
Thom Ely, a member of Lynn Canal Conservation who submitted a proposal requesting the borough leave the map alone, said the random drawing of a resident doesn’t fairly represent the public or the stakeholders.
“Unfortunately, this has turned into a campaign of getting more versus less votes,” Ely said.
The lack of a conservation seat means there is no one on the committee to represent opposition to area expansion, Ely said in an interview Monday. “The committee is a joke. There should be a committee that does an annual review of the operators to see if they should even be allowed to operate anymore... The borough would be making a huge mistake to even consider expanding their operating area,” he said.
LCC treasurer Scott Carey said he is perplexed by the borough’s decision to choose a public representative at random. “It’s a very bizarre way that they chose the public seat. It was not by merit of comment. We often joked about throwing out (a proposal that) the map should be burned and you’d still get a seat on there,” Carey said.
Manager Mark Earnest said he recognizes people are upset about how the committee turned out, but the assembly voted to construct it that way when it revised borough laws governing heli-skiing in November. “That’s how it was structured. That’s what the code says. That’s how we’re proceeding. It could have been anyone that submitted a map proposal, but that’s how it came out,” Earnest said.
The November changes included an annual review of heli-ski boundaries and how members of the committee reviewing the map would be chosen.
No conservation seat and no representation for non-motorized recreationists leaves LCC with little influence on the process, Carey said.
“What’s my recourse here? We’ll moan and groan at one of the assembly meetings, and we’ll probably end up going to these map meetings, and we’ll sit in the audience and say, ‘Please, Scott Sundberg, don’t take any more of this,’” he said.
Whether Carey or any other member of the public not sitting on the committee will be able to speak at the map meetings is unclear. According to rules governing the map meetings posted on the borough website, the meeting is not a “public hearing,” meaning public comment is at the discretion of the committee.
“During a ‘public hearing’ the public can expect to have an opportunity to be heard. During a public meeting, however, there should be no such expectation. It does not mean the committee can’t or won’t allow people in the audience to speak during their meeting, but rather it is the committee’s option instead of being mandatory,” the website reads.
The public will have a chance to comment when the committee’s recommendation comes before the borough assembly.
The committee held an organizational meeting June 7 and set its first workshop for noon Friday. The committee will also meet at noon on June 21 and June 28.
Individuals who submitted map proposals include: Barbara Mulford, Carolyn Weishahn, Dan Wackerman, Dave Long, Dean Risley, Deborah Vogt, Eric Holle, George Campbell, Julie Vance, Katya Kirsch, Patty Campbell, Peter Goll, Scott Doddridge, Scott Ramsey, Sherrie Goll and Thom Ely.
Tim Thomas, representing Alaska Heliskiing, was the only other industry representative besides Sundberg to submit a proposal.
Cecily Stern, Karen Hess, Sierra Cramer, Ryan Scott and Bruce Bauer also submitted comments, but no formal amendment proposal.