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Elder shareholders rejoice on their land

Goldbelt gives back, brings Elder shareholders on cruise to Hobart Bay

Posted: July 9, 2014 - 11:08pm
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Goldbelt Heritage Culture Specialist Victoria Johnson leads elders and guests in song during the 2014 Goldbelt Elders Cruise to Hobart Bay on July 6.   MELISSA GRIFFITHS | JUNEAU EMPIRE
MELISSA GRIFFITHS | JUNEAU EMPIRE
Goldbelt Heritage Culture Specialist Victoria Johnson leads elders and guests in song during the 2014 Goldbelt Elders Cruise to Hobart Bay on July 6.

Despite thousands of years of history on the land, many Native elders haven’t had the chance to set foot on land they could call their own — until recently, when Goldbelt has offered its elder shareholders a cruise to the corporation’s Hobart Bay land.

Even under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which transferred titles to Alaska Native regional corporations and more than 200 local village corporations in 1971, outgoing Goldbelt President and CEO Bob Loiselle said land distribution wasn’t always fair with regard to financial benefits.

“All corporations received roughly the same land, mostly high-quality timber land,” Loiselle said. “No matter how well we did at that endeavor, the amount of benefit was much less for Goldbelt because there are more (shareholders) to try to satisfy in that regard.”

In 2013, Loiselle proposed providing cruises for shareholders 65 and older as a way to provide a benefit beyond the financial distributions, which Loiselle said were inevitably less than distributions from corporations with fewer shareholders.

“Maybe we could at least, when people become elders, take them down there even if just for a few hours to experience what Hobart Bay is like,” he said. “To get to see it for themselves and experience it.”

Working with Allen Marine Tours, with whom Goldbelt has a business relationship, the corporation has provided three cruises to Hobart Bay — one July 6 and two last summer.

Loiselle expects the corporation will continue to provide the cruises in coming years, even after his upcoming retirement.

Elder shareholders and guests traveled the three and a half hours from Auke Bay to Hobart Bay, 70 miles south of Juneau, aboard an Allen Marine vessel. During the voyage participants sang songs and listened to updates on Goldbelt’s investments.

While at Hobart Bay, Elders and guests were able to sing songs on their own soil, survey the landscape from a scenic point, pluck still-tart salmonberries from along the paths that traverse the land and enjoy a traditional treat of herring eggs while sharing stories and jokes.

The 29,150 acres were selected for their timber prospects. Development of Hobart Bay began in 1980, according to information provided by Goldbelt. The corporation had reached an agreement with regional corporation Sealaska to harvest and market up to 200 million board feet of its timber.

At its peak, Hobart Bay was a logging community of about 150 loggers and their family members. Timber operations there ceased in the mid-1990s, but in another 30 to 50 years, Loiselle said, another stand of timber will be available for harvest.

“It’s an asset appreciating in value each year as it grows,” he said. “While it’s not something of current value that can be liquidated and generate cash, timber is still part of the Goldbelt portfolio.”

During this period without logging activity, Goldbelt has found other ways to utilize its land, including mariculture and tourism.

Though not visible to Elder shareholders on the July 6 visit, along the shoreline of Hobart Bay about 2,000 geoducks have been planted, with 70,000 more to be planted next summer.

“(Hobart Bay) is well-suited to the planting of geoducks,” Loiselle said. “It will provide a significant income in about five to six years.”

Planting the large-neck clams in rounds, Loiselle said once the first section reaches optimal size, they will have a continual harvest every year. An age distribution will keep the cycle going.

Working with Allen Marine Tours, Hobart Bay is also a destination for a small cruise ships. Passengers can explore the trails on all-terrain vehicles or kayak and boat around the bay.

“Instead of getting let off in Juneau,” Loiselle said, “they can get in touch with the ocean and land ecology out there, learn about that and experience it first-hand.”

Of all that Loiselle has overseen at Goldbelt’s helm, he called the Elders cruise “very satisfying.”

“It’s a very uplifting, positive experience,” he said.

• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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