The assembly voted to 4-1 take a new approach to regulating heli-ski map terrain. Following borough manager Debra Schnabel’s advice, the assembly approved the creation of a working group facilitated by former longtime Alaska Department of Fish and Game supervisor Doug Larsen.

Larsen has facilitated successful negotiations involving professional resource managers, public interest groups and resource consumers, Schnabel said.

The working group will consist of 12 or fewer stakeholders, including representatives from the heli-ski industry, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, wildlife conservation, Lynn Canal Conservation, borough staff, an assembly member and a public member.

The working group will use data recently compiled that shows probable mountain goat and bear habitat to help create a permanent heli-ski map. Implicit in the group’s final decision, should the group reach consensus, is that the assembly would accept its recommendation.

The borough will pay Larsen $100 an hour to facilitate the group. The assembly voted to pay Larsen for up to six hours of work.

While initially skeptical, assembly member Heather Lende said she’s willing to try something new. “What we’re saying is, in good faith, we’re hoping that Doug Larsen and ADF&G and the operators and the people that are appointed by our staff can take the new data that we now have in hand and that they can create stability both for the companies and for residents,” Lende said.

Assembly member Brenda Josephson said she was willing to be idealistic. “We have a potential of coming up with something new, or if that fails then we have what we have now,” Josephson said. “To me I don’t see what we have to lose by giving this a try other than $600.”

Assembly member Tom Morphet was the sole dissenter. He said the assembly should be in charge of making the decision. Morphet said he’s heard concern that people who live near areas where helicopters operate were left out of the working group. He compared the heli-ski map discussions to peace talks during the Vietnam War.

“I’m just saying, as I recall, when the U.S. and Vietnam went to establish a peace treaty about the end of the war there were days and days of discussion on the shape of the table that they were going to meet around,” Morphet said. “I think this is a pie in the sky. I think we are paid to make these difficult decisions.”

In the past a five-member heli-ski map committee, that worked with Fish and Game and the borough planner, met every three years to discuss heli-ski terrain changes. In 2016, conflict of interest charges bogged down the process after two heli-ski industry operators sat on committee. The borough assembly then charged the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the Tourism Advisory Board work with Fish and Game biologists to make map amendment recommendations to the assembly.