Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Conflict of interest on heliski committee?


By John Stang

Five people are on a Haines Borough committee to recommend whether to approve two companies’ requests to expand their heliskiing zones.

But two of those five committee members are partial owners of the same two heliskiing companies that made the requests. They are Scott Sundberg, co-owner of SEABA, and Sean Brownell, co-owner of Alaska Heliskiing.

The committee’s purpose is to review the requests by Alaska Heliskiing and SEABA to expand their allowed heliskiing zones. The committee will make its recommendations to borough manager Bill Seward by Nov. 30. Seward will make his recommendations to the assembly by Dec. 13.

Mayor Jan Hill, the heliskiing industry and a random-choice computer program selected the five. Here are the selections and how they were made:

The borough’s heliskiing industry selected Brownell as its representative.

Hill selected Meredith Pochardt, executive director of the Takshanuk Watershed Council, to represent conservation interests.

Hill selected Ron Jackson to represent the borough assembly.

On Tuesday, at the borough’s administrative building, a random-choice computer program selected Sundberg and Lori Smith from seven Haines residents who applied to be the two at-large representatives on the committee. The other five residents were Bruce Bauer, Carolyn Weishahn, Ted Cheney, Mark Smith and Joe Ordonez.

The presence of the two heliskiing remapping applicants on the same committee that will review their request worries Seward. “Common sense says there is a conflict,” he said.

However, the borough’s code does not contain any specific language that would disqualify Sundberg or Brownell from serving on the committee that is reviewing their own companys’ applications, Seward said. Consequently, there is no legal way to bar them from it, he said.

“This falls in ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t,’” Seward said.

He added: “We’re going to have to clean up the code. We’ve learned something from this.”

Sundberg also noted that the borough’s code did not prevent him from applying for an at-large spot on the committee. “I have a big concern about the economic health of my industry. … the committee will represent my voice as a citizen,” he said.

Sundberg and Seward noted that the committee’s recommendations will have to be vetted by the borough manger and the assembly. Sundberg did not expect much change to the status quo. “Some of these (heliskiing map changes) will happen, and some will not,” he said.

He supported having the state – not the borough – handling proposed changes in heliskiing zones.

Brownell could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

On Sept. 13, the assembly passed a new law that delayed the next mapping of new heliskiing zones until 2019.

The assembly granted exceptions to two existing heliskiing remapping applications from SEABA and Alaska Heliskiing because those requests were received by a May 31 deadline –more than three months before the assembly decided to hold off remapping actions until 2019.

Jackson and fellow assembly member Tresham Gregg voted against grandfathering in SEABA’s and Alaska Heliskiing’s applications.

In a related matter, the Dec.13 deadline for the assembly to receive Seward’s recommendation means that the remapping will not take into account the results of a state study on mountain goats in the Haines and Skagway areas. That six-year study of mountain goats with radio collars is expected to make its results public in spring 2017.


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