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Assembly probes University on Mud Bay timber sale alternatives


November 9, 2017

University of Alaska representatives and the Haines Borough Assembly discussed alternatives to a timber sale on the Mud Bay peninsula, which included the possibility of the Haines Borough constructing a road to provide access for a potential land sale.

The university’s Board of Regents triggered the timber sale on about 400 acres of land in the Mud Bay Land Use Service Area in September after the borough planning commission discussed limiting resource extraction in the zone.

The borough assembly asked the university last month to extend its bid deadline and public comment period to discuss the sale in more detail. The university extended the deadline to Nov. 22.

University of Alaska Regional Resource Manager Patrick Kelly told the assembly the university would “look at all options” to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities to generate revenue for its Land Grant Trust Fund and was looking for a “win-win” with the borough.

Assembly member Heather Lende suggested the university would earn more revenue subdividing and selling the land as opposed to offering a timber harvest.

Kelly said access to those lands is required by state law and asked if the borough would be willing to build a road. Selling the timber, Kelly said, would provide access the university could use to sell the land and comply with state law.

“I’m a registered land surveyor in the state of Alaska and I could subdivide this in my sleep but what I can’t give is physical access,” Kelly said. “Again we’re talking about highest and best value for the university. When there’s physical access it’s worth more.”

Assembly member Tom Morphet asked if the university would be willing to swap land, or take a cash payment from the borough in exchange for the value of the timber.

Borough assembly member Brenda Josephson said the borough assembly’s role is to act in the best interest of the entire community and “giving cash for non-development is not in the best interest of the tax payers of the borough.”

Kelly said, based on public comment, 78 percent of the Haines community supports the timber sale. He did not say how many comments the university has received. That information won’t be available until after the Nov. 22 comment period.

The university prepared two questions for the assembly to answer including what the borough’s concerns were regarding the timber sale and what framework was available to resolve the conflict between Mud Bay zoning code and the university’s fiduciary trust obligations on its property.

Morphet said the assembly is concerned that a timber sale could “put a potential clear cut smack in the middle of a residential zone where residents have been buying and developing properties on the understanding that such activities as commercial logging on that scale was not allowed in that area.”

Assembly member Sean Maidy said while the community at large might be supportive of the sale, the majority of the Mud Bay residents are opposed and the assembly needs to take them into account.

Kelly said the university understands those residents’ concerns, “But conversely they need to understand that the university started this process in 1964 before there was any of these concerns existing.”

“Nothing’s changed for the university’s use of the property either,” Kelly later said. “It’s very important to look at all of the landowners and all of the uses and the historic uses when creating a zone.”

Josephson cited borough code which says any development which existed prior to the implementation of any land use ordinances is a use-by-right in the Mud Bay zone. The Mud Bay zoning ordinance was created in the mid-80s.

“I am hearing a unison of voices from the public who are saying it is inappropriate for the borough to be spending public funds to stop the university sale,” Josephson said. “The university has owned this land from before statehood. The borough has an obligation to the public to be appropriate with the spending of their funds.”

Mayor Jan Hill said the assembly will address the university’s questions and stay in contact. No official action was taken.

The assembly will meet Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. for a special meeting to provide a comment to the university.


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