February 20, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 7

Assembly retracts mining letter

The Haines Borough Assembly last week voted to send a retraction letter to a state agency after discovering a previous letter had been sent without assembly approval.

The initial letter was sent to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office regarding the potential leasing of nearly 100,000 acres of land near Haines to mineral exploration and production. The letter stated the Haines Borough believed the trust’s decision to lease the land should be altered.

The assembly voted 4-2 to send a retraction letter after assembly member Jerry Lapp added the matter to the agenda last week. Assembly members Debra Schnabel and Joanne Waterman opposed sending the retraction.

“I don’t think any of us assembly members got to weigh in on this and I think this should have been brought to us,” Lapp said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott said she asked planning and zoning technician Tracy Cui to write the letter because she believed the trust’s proposal to lease the land misrepresented the borough’s Comprehensive Plan.

Scott wanted the letter to clarify that some of the trust land offered for leasing is designated “multiple-use,” which is designed for areas where multiple activities occur, “but the emphasis is on recreation and tourism uses, not on resource extraction uses.”  

“It seemed like the Mental Health Trust misrepresented the borough comprehensive plan, so I asked the borough planner to see if there was a correction that needed to be made. That’s all, and that’s all that letter represents,” Scott said.

Interim manager Julie Cozzi approved the letter after it was written, Scott said.

Several assembly members thought the letter came off sounding like an opposition to the lease offering.

 “This was not a letter saying we believe that there are inconsistencies. It’s not saying we believe you are reading our comp plan wrong. This letter is saying we want your decision changed,” said assembly member George Campbell.

“This is a big deal and our staff really needs to run these kinds of policy statements by the assembly,” Campbell said.

Assembly member Diana Lapham also supported sending the retraction. “There was no discussion. I feel like someone is speaking for me and that I am being misrepresented,” Lapham said.

Scott said she didn’t know why the letter didn’t make it onto the agenda for assembly approval prior to being sent.

“I don’t know why the letter took the tone that it did. It was a technical clarification letter and somehow or another it sounded like a position paper. It shouldn’t have been a position paper. It was poor communication,” Scott said.

Scott sent the retraction letter Feb. 14, a day after the trust land office’s executive director decided to uphold the decision to lease the land.

“We are concerned that the tone and a couple of phrases in the letter carried meaning unintended and unauthorized,” Scott said in the letter. “Indeed, it is not the official position of the Haines Borough to request an alteration to the decision to lease 99,260 acres in the Haines Borough for mineral exploration. At this time, the Haines Borough Assembly has taken no position other than to request a retraction.”