Legislature(2017 - 2018)BUTROVICH 205
04/03/2017 03:30 PM RESOURCES
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SB 88-AK MENTAL HEALTH TRUST LAND EXCHANGE 3:31:18 PM CHAIR GIESSEL announced consideration of SB 88, which was first heard on March 22. The bill is a proposed land exchange for the Mental Health Trust Land Authority (AMHTA). She opened public testimony. REBECCA KNIGHT, representing herself, Petersburg, Alaska, opposed SB 88 on a variety of grounds and believed that a federal buyout of AMHTA's proposed land exchange was a far better alternative. SENATOR HUGHES joined the committee. MS. KNIGHT asked the committee to change the action to a federal buyout with the lands to be added to the Tongass National Forest and the proceeds going into the trust. While the Petersburg Borough Assembly formerly supported the buyout option if the federal legislation failed to pass Congress by January 15, 2017, Ms. Knight said this option would satisfy the trust's mission to improve the lives of beneficiaries as well as mitigate impacts to Petersburg and Ketchikan area land owners while also avoiding long-term and massive landscape-level impacts elsewhere if exchange legislation is enacted. As presently conceived, the bills in the legislature and Congress would allow continuous clear cuts on several thousand acres on already heavily-logged Rosella and Prince of Wales (POW) Islands. For instance, a total 19 square-mile clear cut will result on Rosella Island when combined with the trust's nearly 4,000-acre existing clear cut and the proposed and directly adjacent 8,000-acre exchange parcel. This existing and proposed scale of logging is in the direct flight path of thousands of Ketchikan flight-seeing visitors each summer. A federal buy-out is a reasonable solution, because Congress created the AMHTA and endowed it with land to support itself, and this would result in no environmental harm. If SB 88 passes, AMHTA could finalize the action much sooner and cost the trust only about half the $6-million exchange cost for survey and appraisals since only about half the lands would be involved. Finally, AMTHA's land could be purchased for a few tens of millions of dollars at fair market value, which is a sliver of the amount saved from the public purse for mental health services since its inception 61 years ago. 3:34:44 PM CHARLES WOOD, Mitkof Highway Homeowners Association (MHHA), Petersburg, Alaska, supported SB 88. He said the MHHA is a group of 95 Petersburg homeowners living below and commuting along State Highway 7, the Mitkof Highway, which lies at the foot of the trust's demonstrably steep, unstable hillside parcels. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) using orthophotographic mapping has designated the soils across most of the trust parcels as landslide hazard soils and a majority of the parcels exceed Forest Service standards pertaining to logging. The Mitkof Highway corridor below the trust parcels have been analyzed and mapped by the Division of Forestry and the Landslide Science and Technical Committee as a landslide hazard zone. MR. WOOD said the State Division of Forestry has no criteria in its best management practices specific to logging steep, unstable slopes within inhabited landslide hazard areas. Yet, if the trust were to ever log these slopes, it would do so under the guidance of Alaska's Forest Resources and Practices Act. He said the focus of the MHHA over the past 11 years has been entirely on public safety; never once has viewshed or community backdrop, local recreational opportunities, wildlife corridors, or tourism been considered, though each of the issues presents reasonable arguments in favor of the land exchange. Nor has commentary been offered on the trust lands next to other communities or the Forest Service lands involved with the exchange. Logging the slopes above their homes runs the risk of accelerated landslide activity, Mr. Wood said. His group believes that the Division of Forestry's best management practices guidelines provide insufficient safeguards to protect their homes and property from unwise timber harvest. Conversely, he expects that management of the hillside by the USFS will entail other criteria, which will ensure that public safety will not be impacted by logging. DAVID LANDIS, Mayor, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Ketchikan, Alaska, supported SB 88. He said the borough has repeatedly and consistently supported the land exchange referenced in SB 88. It is a win/win/win proposition for Ketchikan. It is a win for their timber industry, because it is economically important to provide a consistent supply of timber for those jobs that are directly involved in the industry in Southeast and the many private businesses who are vendors to it. This is also a win for the citizens of Ketchikan and the over one-million tourists who will visit Ketchikan this year, because the trust lands to be exchanged are directly behind Ketchikan on Deer Mountain and on Gravina Island above the airport. These are major view sheds and the Deer Mountain parcel also has a very popular trail used by locals and visitors. There is virtually no support in Ketchikan to log these areas; the swap would protect these lands and provide other lands more practical for timber sales. In addition, this is a win for the Mental Health Trust Authority, because like all communities in Alaska, Ketchikan has citizens who suffer from mental illness, substance abuse, and other disorders, and the AMHTA needs revenue to fund their efforts; this land exchange will provide that revenue. In closing, Mr. Landis said, this exchange is as close as you can get to a "win" for everyone involved. 3:38:50 PM LARRY EDWARDS, representing himself, Sitka, Alaska, opposed SB 88 and wanted it amended to a federal buy-out of the trust's problematic parcels. This would result in a "triple win" of needed funds for the trust, the end of logging threats in five communities and No Name Bay, and avoidance of high impacts on new trust lands. Amending the bill would also direct the delegation to amend its bills in Congress. The committee lacks information to get a hard look at impacts in vicinities where the trust would get new land. Trust and Division of Forestry testimony looked only at supposed benefits during these impacts. ADF&G's Wildlife and Habitat Divisions were not invited to testify even though the trust would get 33 square miles of forest for logging in large blocks on two islands that would have high landscape-scale cumulative impacts. Their testimony is needed. MR. EDWARDS asked them to review comments from the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community on why cumulative impacts of the land exchange are a very significant issue. They underscore why a hard look by the state is imperative. He said the Alaska Constitution obligates state government to ensure that resource development is sustainable and in the public interest. The Alaska Supreme Court said this means a hard look at salient problems, genuinely engaging in reasonable decision- making, and considering all relevant factors including cumulative impacts. But, under the Forest Practices Act there is no state hard-look at landscape-scale impacts. So, the constitutional hard look obligation for the proposed land exchange falls squarely upon the legislature, and this committee. A buyout option, besides being the best option, avoids the constitutional problem. The state can't afford to do a buy-out, but the federal government can. 3:41:22 PM DENNIS WATSON, Mayor, City of Craig, Alaska, supported SB 88. He said he is also the general manager of the Inter-Island Ferry Authority. He said what usually gets lost in the rhetoric is that this bill will help pave the way to a more sustainable revenue stream for the AMHTA that funds programs for the most vulnerable Alaskans. This bill and the timber supply it will facilitate for the Prince of Wales (POW) Island and the City of Craig will keep the island's timber industry and its economy going while efforts to lift restrictions on federal timber sale areas are allowed to bear fruit. This timber supply will also keep their largest sawmill, the Viking Lumber, in operation. It provides a year-round payroll and many direct and indirect jobs to Prince of Wales residents. He said the wood wanes from the mill provide energy in the form of heat for the Craig elementary and middle schools and the municipal swimming pool. The wood waste is also compressed into bio-bricks, further increasing the percentage of total utilization of each tree processed. In the end, the logging roads built by the mill will allow "Mom and Pop" mill operators to access smaller timber sales and salvage timber for their lumber cutting operations and to provide high quality product for the music wood industry. These roads will also allow island residents access to firewood, hunting, berry picking, and other subsistence and recreational activities. MR. WATSON said the Viking Mill is the island's largest consumer on the Prince of Wales Island electrical grid. Ceasing its operation would translate into much larger electric bills for island ratepayers. OWEN GRAHAM, lobbyist, Alaska Forest Association, Ketchikan, Alaska, supported SB 88. The lands that AMHTA would receive in this exchange are areas that have had some logging in the past; the road systems are already in and they are not adjacent to any big communities. These are areas that were planned for logging by the Forest Service in the long term without any harm to any fish and wildlife. It is a win for everybody. MR. GRAHAM said the last federal administration couldn't provide enough timber for the last surviving mill that will be out of wood in less than one year, and the Forest Service says it will be at least three before they can provide additional timber to it. So, the exchange really needs to go forward. He said several people testified that they would like to see the federal government purchase the AMHTA land and he opposes that idea, because the federal government already owns and manages close to 95 percent of the land in the region, most of which is kept idle. If they purchase the land it won't benefit anybody, and the community will lose 100 jobs. 3:46:10 PM BRYCE DAHLSTROM, Vice President, Transportation and Raw Materials, Viking Lumber, Klawock, Alaska, supported SB 88. He said lack of federal timber has caused many saw mills to shut down and the loss of thousands of full-time skilled jobs over the last 30 years. SB 88 will provide the much-needed timber to keep the existing industry alive in the short term. It will also provide a stable supply into the future. Exchange of lands held by the trust now will protect the backdrops of several Southeast cities and give the trust the ability to manage the lands they receive. MR. DAHLSTROM said Viking Lumber directly employs 40 people on POW Island where they are 60 percent of the revenue for Alaska Power and Telephone. Up to 250 jobs could be lost if they run out of timber. SB 88 will allow Viking to keep all these hard- working Alaskans with full-time employment. The unemployment rate on POW is 13.8 percent, almost double that of Southeast. The island cannot stand to have any existing business disappear. He said they need to be looking at ways to grow sustainable economies in Southeast, which is what SB 88 will do. CHAIR GIESSEL, finding no further comments, closed public testimony, and announced that Andrew Naylor Department of Law on was line for questions. She also remarked that the bill requires some technical changes that would put them in alignment with Congressional legislation and invited Mr. Menefee to tell them about the changes. 3:48:24 PM WYN MENEFEE, Deputy Director, Land Office, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (AMHTA), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), supported SB 88. He explained that the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee removed a 54-acre island from No Name Bay in the exchange. In the revision the No Name Bay map got a different date. So that there is no confusion and to stay in sync with the federal bill, the map in the state legislature would also have to be revised with a new date. CHAIR GIESSEL, finding no questions, said they were working on a committee (CS) that would be available by tomorrow. SENATOR MEYER said language on page 2, line 14, said the AMHTA shall pay all costs of the exchange and asked Mr. Menefee what that would be. 3:50:52 PM SENATOR VON IMHOF joined the meeting. MR. MENEFEE replied that the biggest cost will be from the survey and appraisal and from reimbursing the Forest Service employees who are doing the follow up title work. He expected the survey and appraisals would cost about $3 million instead of initially anticipated $6 million, because the legislation doesn't require a NEPA analysis. The bill takes away the discretion of the Forest Service by saying "they shall exchange," leaving no alternatives to consider. SENATOR MEYER asked what was meant by "karst" on page 3, line 7. MR. MENEFEE answered that "karst" is a form of limestone formation. The concern was specifically in the Phase 1 area of Nakabi that has underground anadromous fish streams through which fish migrate to get to the next water body. This area is called out specifically, because the Alaska Forest Practices Act typically deals with surface water and requires a buffer next to anadromous fish streams to protect them from logging. SENATOR MEYER said language on page 3, line 8, says the Department of Natural Resources may enter into a cost-share agreement to cover the cost of road maintenance with respect to any reciprocal road easements in the exchange, and asked if that is something DNR typically does. MR. MENEFEE said this is something that is normally done by the department. The issue is if the state is going to use an easement that is owned by somebody else and make money off it by, for instance, having a timber operation and logging trucks running down the road, it's hard to expect that owner to carry the increased maintenance of that road. So, cost-sharing agreements are common for substantial impacts an easement. CHAIR GIESSEL found no further questions and held SB 88 in committee.