My Turn: Mental Health Trust, look at potential Mitkof timber harm

Posted: Thursday, February 02, 2006

I have known for a long time the state Mental Health Trust owned quite a bit of property above our house and around Petersburg. I never imagined that I would be worrying about the Mental Health Trust ruining our hillside and possibly destroying my water supply that our lives depend on.

Since December the Mental Health Trust has been in the planning stages of logging the hillside above my house and my neighbors' homes. A very bad idea.

In the mid-1990s I had a chance to work with the city of Petersburg, the city of Kupreanof, the U.S. Forest Service and the Mental Health Trust. It was great exercise, working with many government entities that turned a special place over to the Forest Service and the city of Petersburg. During the process I had the opportunity to spend quite a few hours with the Mental Health Trust staff and they helped me understand the workings of the trust and its responsibilities.

Now it appears that the Mental Health Trust is planning to harvest timber off the hillside behind my house and I am very concerned about the effects of this sale. I am very concerned that logging behind my home could ruin or stop my water supply. We have a well that supplies our household with water. I am concerned that logging behind my house will disturb the hillside and possibly cause a landslide that could destroy my home. The following are a few observations and a few ideas that I hope the Mental Health Trust and board of directors will consider.

One of the first things a visitor or community member sees when traveling north or south along the Wrangell Narrows or Mitkof highway is the hillside that the Mental Health Trust is planning to log. If logging is done and the hillside is destroyed, this will be the message to us about what type of neighbor the Mental Health Trust is. This proposed timber sale will do very little for the local economy of Petersburg. The Mental Health Trust will cut the trees, ship them to an Asian market, take the money and run, leaving us to deal with the consequences of their timber sale.

If this sale does go through I would like someone from the Mental Health Trust to walk the hillsides and identify the water supplies of the downhill property owners and monitor the water supplies during and for a period of time after the logging sale to make sure nothing detrimental happens to our water supplies. I would like the Mental Health Trust and its board to address a few concerns that I have: 1) The short- and long-term effects of landslide potential on the proposed timber sale area. 2) How will water quality be affected before and after the timber harvest and how will the Mental Health Trust monitor the water supplies of the downhill property owners? 3) What effect will the timber sale have on our designation as a Scenic Byway along the Wrangell Narrows? 4) What and how will the timber harvest have on property value and the city of Petersburg property taxes? 5) What effect will the timber sale have on wildlife resources? 6) What slopes grades will be exempted from timber harvesting? 7) During any helicopter logging what will be the flight path and the flight times during the day?

It is too bad that the Mental Health Trust, that does so many good things for Alaskan, is being viewed as a bully and a bad neighbor. I hope the Mental Health Trust and its board of directors reconsiders this ill-advised timber sale.

• Jeff Meucci is a former two-term Petersburg city council member, two-term mayor of Petersburg and former co-chairman of Gov. Tony Knowles Southeast Timber Task Force.

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