Activists flood company with letters against veneer plant

Group says it wouldn't oppose mill if USFS reinstated roadless area protections in Tongass

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2005

KETCHIKAN - Environmentalists faxed dozens of letters to a Washington state forest products company to voice concerns over its plans to reopen a veneer plant at Ketchikan's Ward Cove.

Ted Falconer of T.F. Inc. in Gig Harbor, Wash., said 153 letters jammed his fax machine last week. The letters came from people across the country, and were faxed from the Natural Resources Defense Council's office in Washington, D.C.

The faxes have stopped, though letters are still arriving in the mail, Falconer said.

"Nobody has signed their name and they all came from (the NRDC) fax machine a minute and half apart," he said.

Debbie Hammel, a senior resource specialist with NRDC, said the organization had collected nearly 15,000 comments from its members.

"We know it's a very large volume, and we're only allowing a few to go through on fax," she said. "The rest we're probably going to put on a disk and mail to him so he understands the level of concern regarding his negotiations (with the borough)."

Right now, the campaign involves only NRDC, but that could change, Hammel said. The group wouldn't oppose a veneer mill in Ketchikan if the U.S. Forest Service reinstated roadless area protections in the Tongass National Forest, she said.

"Our members are communicating their concern about Mr. Falconer's continued negotiations with the borough to reopen and operate the veneer mill," she said.

The NRDC, the Alaska Rainforest Campaign and the Alaska Coalition conducted a similar campaign a year ago against Timber Products Co., which had been looking at the Ketchikan mill. In that instance, the groups say they organized 60,000 phone calls and messages to Timber Products Springfield, Ore., office.

Ketchikan's Borough Assembly considered filing a lawsuit against the groups last year over the campaign, but ultimately dropped the idea. The borough owns the veneer plant and has signed a memorandum of agreement with Falconer.

Borough Manager Roy Eckert said a lawsuit against the environmentalists remains a possibility.

The Tongass has approximately 9.4 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, of which about 300,000 acres are available for timber harvest, according to the Forest Service.

Tongass National Forest spokesman Dennis Neill said the forest plan keeps most Tongass roadless areas unmodified. Forest Service management is based on science and there are provisions in timber sale contracts to protect streams and wildlife, he said.

"We recognize that some segments of society have desires that are different, and those concerns need to be taken up with Congress or us instead of a private businessman," he said. "He's not responsible for decisions made under the forest plan and shouldn't be held accountable for it. And I think they know that."

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