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Mud Bay petitions against extraction


April 11, 2019 | View PDF

Mud Bay land owners brought forward a petition to the borough assembly’s Government Affairs and Services (GAS) Committee on Tuesday, calling for the prohibition of resource extraction in their neighborhood. Lutak residents said they felt “blindsided” by a proposal to add language in their zoning code that allows resource extraction. The committee ultimately voted to advance the revised ordinance to the next assembly meeting.

The old ordinance allowed for timber and other materials to be extracted based on a land to resource ratio. The new ordinance examines resource extraction requests on a case-by-case basis, and considers the intent of the zone, as written in borough code, where resource extraction would occur.

The ordinance, as introduced, angered more than 120 Mud Bay residents and 40 others who signed the petition, which read, “After two years of good faith participation in this public process, Mud Bay residents’ request to support existing code and PROHIBIT resource extraction had been completely disregarded.”

“Just boom, overnight (the planning commission) just laid this on top of us, that we could have resource extraction,” Mud Bay resident Katey Palmer told the CVN. Palmer, a retired botanist, was in charge of sending out emails, while other neighbors collected signatures in person. “Most people are like, sure I’ll sign it. Really, resource extraction? No way!”

Similarly, Lutak residents Tuesday voiced their opposition to resource extraction language in their neighborhood. “We were surprised because this ordinance has been developing, but we weren’t aware that it was affecting this zoning area out here,” said Lutak resident Tim McDonough, a retired teacher.

McDonough pointed to a line in draft two of the ordinance where the words “commercial logging” were replaced with “resource extraction.”

Another petition signatory, Jennifer Bird, served on Mud Bay Land Use Service Land Area (MBLUSLA) board in the early 1990s, and helped write the intent for the Mud Bay Zone.

“I wanted to make sure that I clarified that when I was on the board, the intention was clearly not for larger-scale operations, and not for extractions,” she said. “The intention was to maintain the rural residential quality. What the definition of a business was did not include extraction.”

Bird said that she bought her land because of these principles. “I have worked very hard to have that. I’m a teacher, I’m not a rich person. I’m a common gal,” she said.

At least one Mud Bay resident who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting supports conditional use permits for resource extraction. “I believe it gives the most control of the issue to the residents of Mud Bay, to the citizen, because it looks at things on a case by case basis,” said Sylvia Heinz, who owns the Mud Bay Lumber Company.

Heinz said that both ordinances, the old ordinance and the draft ordinance submitted by Smith, have consequences and benefits. The old ordinance “was attempting to resolve resource extraction in objective terms,” said Heinz. “The new ordinance is trying to resolve resource extraction in subjective terms, and that will also have its challenges and opportunities.”

Borough Manager Debra Schnabel said she supports the committee’s move to bring the conditional resource extraction language to the assembly. She described the people who wanted to allow conditional resource extraction as people, “who would like to see an economy in our community, besides just retired people.”

“You’d have to get a conditional use permit if you wanted to do any resource extraction,” said Schnabel, “Simple enough fix from a staff point of view. Obviously from a neighbor’s point of view they began to imagine all kinds of things that they didn’t want to have happen.”

Schnabel sees the issue rooted in the definition of “resource extraction,” which came up through incidents last year when the University of Alaska announced it was going to offer a timber sale on 400 acres of its holdings in the Mud Bay zone.

“The question was, was that an allowable activity in that zone,” said Schnabel. “It has taken two years to define resource extraction that most people seem familiar and satisfied with,” she said.

But has discussing this divisive issue over an extended period of time made it more, rather than less, convoluted?

“When a policy issue or anything is talked about in the public sphere over time,” planner Smith said, “if you don’t have a good system of wrapping it up quickly, or people don’t see an end-date, the process as a whole tends to degrade.”

“The main thing I’ve learned from this whole issue is that the perception of words matters more than the legal description of words,” said Heinz.


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