Ketchikan residents who live near a parcel of state land that is about to be sold to a private timber company are objecting to the way the University of Alaska handled the sale.
But the university says it followed proper procedures in putting the land into private hands - to the benefit of the state and students.
The 145-acre wooded property six miles south of Ketchikan went on the market Sept. 8 with a minimum asking price of $129,000. It was part of a larger sale featuring 35 other parcels around the state that were up for competitive bid.
When the sale ended Nov. 6, the state had received one offer on the land - from Alcan Forest Products of Ketchikan - for $175,000. It was the winning bid, and Alcan has filed paperwork with the state Division of Forestry to harvest about 3 million board feet of timber from the site this spring.
But neighbors of the property object to the price the state received for the land and the fact that residents weren't notified of the sale. Parker Smith, who lives near the property, said he found out about the sale at a New Year's Eve party. There are 65 homes near the harvest area, he said.
"The university seems to think that $1,200 an acre for prime forested woodland with an ocean view, wildlife and freshwater streams is fair market value," he said. "We haven't seen prices like that in 20 years. It's amazingly below market value."
Neighbors of the site aren't "screaming greenies," but are concerned about water quality, the viewshed, blowdown of trees, and the possibility of landslides if a timber harvest occurs, he said.
"This really isn't a battle of environmentalists versus timber," he said. "It's really an issue of being good neighbors, an issue of responsible land use."
Margaret Clubby, who lives in Herring Cove near the north end of the property, said she plans to contest the sale with the university.
"Procedurally, they didn't give public notice and they've done a disservice to the university students and staff by not getting enough money for it," she said.
The University of Alaska owns and manages about 183,000 acres of land in the state, a good portion of which is earmarked for investment, according to the school. Revenue from the school's land benefits university programs and the Alaska Scholars Program, said UA Land Management Director Mari Montgomery. The Alaska Scholars Program offers scholarships to the state's top high school students.
"We do subdivisions, timber sales and lease property," Montgomery said. "One of the things we do is evaluate lands, and if they're not appreciating assets we do dispose of them periodically. This was just a regular course of business for us."
The university advertised last year's land sale by taking out newspaper ads in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks; by posting notices on the state's Web site and the land office's Web site, and by sending information to people on its mailing list, Montgomery said. People had an opportunity to comment at that time, but the office didn't receive any comments about the Ketchikan sale, she said.
The office has never advertised its land sales in Ketchikan's newspaper, said Kristi Sherman, associate director of UA Land Management.
"On average we sell two parcels a year to people in Ketchikan and we have 107 people (in Ketchikan) on our direct mailing list," she said. "We also send it to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough."
Because the property was offered for competitive sale, the land office did an in-house assessment to determine its value, Sherman said. The land was compared to other property in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska sold recently, she said. Staffers also visited the site, looked at maps of the area and evaluated the property's characteristics, she said.
"In this case, it was an extremely steep parcel with difficult access and a difficult shape," she said. "It is very skinny."
UA Land Management does conduct appraisals in negotiated sales, Sherman said. In a competitive sale such as the one used in Ketchikan, the fair market value "finds itself," she said.
"If someone has a specific use in mind and it's worth more to them, they'll pay more," she said. "That's the beauty of it."
The land office occasionally offers timber sales, but didn't in this case because it didn't think it was feasible, Montgomery said. The timber market is poor and the terrain is steep, she said. The state's sale to Alcan is scheduled to close this week.
A 2002 Ketchikan Gateway Borough assessment valued the property at $440,800. The figure doesn't include the value of the timber, said chief borough appraiser Rupert Henry.
But Kim Wold, an appraiser and president of Alaska Appraisal Associates in Ketchikan, said the borough's figures aren't always reliable. He wasn't involved in the UA sale.
The state sale "doesn't really sound out of line," he said, referring to beachfront property on Gravina Island near Ketchikan that has been selling at $2,000 to $3,000 an acre. Location, access, topography and timber are elements that can affect value, he said.
Sherman, of the university, encourages people to check out the land office's Web site to track sales and property.
In the past, the university has sold property to conservation groups, Montgomery added. In one example last year, UA sold 835 acres near Glacier Bay to a conservation fund, which turned it over to the U.S. Forest Service for protection as wilderness, she said.
"We don't discriminate against our buyers," she said.
Alcan Forest Products, which purchased the land, hopes to start harvesting timber as soon as possible, weather permitting, partner Brian Brown said. The company plans to export round logs from the site, with an eye on future development, he said.
"Development isn't really our bag so to speak," he said. "We're interested in letting someone that's interested take over that end of it. There are some nice home lots on the property."
Brown said his company wants to give people who own property near the site a chance to buy land to enlarge their lots.
"We want to minimize the impact on people who have homes," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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