Sealaska Lands Bill meetings canceled

Weather keeps Congressional staff out of northern POW communities

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

Bad weather stopped residents on north Prince of Wales Island from having their say this week on the Sealaska Lands Bill.

Meetings in the communities most opposed to the bill - Edna Bay, Port Protection and Point Baker - were canceled Wednesday and Thursday when staff could not get there.

"In 65-knot winds, nobody would fly to Port Protection today," said Chuck Kleeschulte, a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staff member in the region from Washington, D.C. to hold the meetings.

"The seas were near 17 feet," he added.

Kleeschulte said Thursday afternoon he did not know if the meetings would be rescheduled.

Point Baker resident Chuck Zieske said the community is disappointed.

"Especially because we've got pretty unanimous opposition to the bill and for good reason," he said.

The proposed legislation, S. 881, aims to transfer about 85,000 acres of federal land to the regional Native corporation.

Residents on POW who oppose the bill say Sealaska Corp.'s planned timber harvests would destroy their subsistence lifestyles.

The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, makes private many acres of close-by lands that are currently public lands used by the community, Zieske said.

Sealaska seeks to complete its lands selection process granted under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. It needs the Congressional decision because it wants to choose lands outside the original boundaries of the Act.

Zieske, a 61-year resident, called the bill a "death knell" for Point Baker.

"There's just no point in having a major corporation so close, and we're getting basically no help from Murkowski's office in moving those lines back," he said.

Edna Bay resident Mrya Polestra said people are frustrated and upset about the cancellations. Seventeen people had signed up to testify.

Kleeschulte was scheduled to take this morning's Alaskan Airlines flight to Petersburg for a noon meeting, while Murkowski staff member Kevin Sweeney headed for Sitka for a regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m.

A noon meeting in Ketchikan was still on for Saturday.

Sealaska shareholder Adrian LeCornu, a 32-year Hydaberg resident, said testimony at Monday's night's meeting in Craig was emotional and difficult. He attended but did not personally testify.

"There's still a lot of tension over Native and non-Native issues," he said. "Sealaska is entitled to lands under ANCSA; I don't think anyone disputes that. It's where they want to pick them."

Meetings took place in Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove on Tuesday and in Naukati on Wednesday, where some Edna Bay residents were able to testify.

If meetings for north POW communities aren't rescheduled, Kleeschulte said he hoped to still hear from residents.

"I can do that by phone or a number of ways if I can't find a way to get back to Port Protection," he said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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