The University of Alaska Board of Regents postponed voting on the Haines timber sale proposal and scheduled a special meeting to, in part, discuss providing an additional public comment period when more concrete details are fleshed out after the negotiation process.

The delay comes after Board of Regents Facilities and Land Management Committee meeting where they were set to recommend the full board approve the sale’s current development and disposal plan. The regents first discussed amending the sale’s final approval process. Vice chair John Davies suggested the committee recommend to the full board that an additional public comment period be allowed after further details are public. He also suggested the final contract, once the negotiated sale is completed, be subject to board approval.

“We would have the administration develop more details, do the negotiations, come back to us hopefully with a more successful negotiation and a more detailed plan and then offer the details of that plan to the public for further comment and then final action by the board,” Davies said at the committee meeting last week. “I think this process addresses some of the concerns that members of the board and members of the public have had with the process.”

University administration staff have provided no details about where and how the timber will be harvested in Haines because the sale has yet to be negotiated with the buyer. All that’s known is that the University aims to offer more than 13,000 acres of its timber holdings scattered across the borough. It anticipates a harvest of 100 million board feet over a 10- year period at a value of about $10 million.

The public and other regents have criticized the lack of details in the negotiated sale. At a University open house in Haines last month, individuals expressed frustration that they were being asked to comment on a timber sale that lacked specificity. University administrative staff said they will address the public’s concerns, which include diminished water quality and viewsheds, and exporting the lumber to a foreign market, in their negotiations with the foreign buyer. They say they are complying with the negotiated sale process as defined in University policy.

At the committee meeting, Regent Jyotsna Heckman told administration staff she understood the board’s policy regarding a negotiated sale, but questioned its value. “Are we real proud of that policy? We’re checking the boxes. I know you’re justifying it the best way that you have, that here is the definition and here is how we are providing the information, but on the other side, put yourself in our shoes when we’re not getting what we think we should be getting. But you’re saying we’ve checked the box. It’s hard for us to make a decision, a balanced, informed decision, when the information is not there.”

Addressing the suggestion to make the contract available for public comment, University president Jim Johnsen said amending the process might dissuade the buyer. “If you put yourself in the shoes of the contractor, exposing all of this prior to conclusion of the negotiation might well increase their perception of risk.”

Christine Klein, University director of land management, told the committee that putting the eventual contract up for public comment and additional board approval could jeopardize the sale. “We likely would not have a buyer because the flexibility in this process allows us to negotiate to meet some of the concerns, rather than a bid process where they’re giving you a set number.”

Davies said if the risk was that significant, then he hoped the administration would suggest a new idea to satisfy concerns. “If there’s a significant likelihood that that process itself would kill the deal then I would hope the administration, at the board meeting, can come back to us with an alternative approach that would satisfy the concerns of the regents and at the same time address the concerns of the buyer.”

The committee ultimately voted 2-1 against recommending to the full board an additional public comment and approval period, with some members saying they’d rather discuss it again at the full board meeting.

Davies told the CVN the board did not discuss the issue at its full board meeting, but will focus on the issue at a June 19 special meeting.

The meeting will include a presentation from University administration, which will include a summary of public comments, more details about the timber sale proposal and “a set of principles that will guide the project as it moves through the planning and implementation process.”

“In light of the questions raised by regents and the public, we believe the issue warrants more time for presentation and consideration than was available to us during this meeting,” Johnsen said in a press release.