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Forest Service cool to Southeast land deal

Plan would have helped timber outfit

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2000

ANCHORAGE - A prime piece of real estate, smack in the heart of the Admiralty Island National Monument, is for sale.

The property includes more than a mile of shoreline, centuries-old trees, salmon streams and offers world-class wildlife viewing and sportfishing. Interested? Until recently, so was the U.S. Forest Service.

In fact, Forest Service interest is why Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation, bought the property a few years ago from a private landowner who had received it as part of a Native land allotment.

Had the land exchange gone through, it would have provided timber for another year of operation by Goldbelt's timber subsidiary.

As it is, the corporation ended its timbering business last year, and is now focusing on tourism and land development enterprises throughout Southeast Alaska, said David Goade, executive vice president of the Juneau-based village corporation.

At the time, Goldbelt and the Forest Service had a mutually beneficial agreement, Goade said.

The Forest Service would identify privately owned lands on Admiralty Island that it would love to have in an effort to bring all of the national monument under federal ownership. Goldbelt would buy property from that list and then negotiate an exchange for federal timberlands around Hobart Bay where the Native corporation needed more trees to sustain its timber operations.

``When the Forest Service put together its priority list of properties for us to acquire, this was No. 2,'' Goade said of the Favorite Bay parcel. ``The Forest Service lost interest in finishing the exchange after I bought the property.''

There seems to be little dispute about why the deal fell through. As both Goade and Leon Mork, timber specialist at the Forest Service's office in Sitka, explain it, the Forest Service concluded the proposed land exchange looked awful on paper.

Land exchanges have to be value for value, and trading such a spectacular piece of land for remote timberlands made the deal seem very unbalanced.

Goldbelt would be giving up about 104 acres for which it paid roughly $900,000 three years ago and would get about 2,000 acres of Hobart Bay timberlands whose old-growth trees by some estimates once had been worth as much as $10 million.

``They just couldn't deal with that,'' said Goade.

As Mork explained it the Favorite Bay land suddenly was ``not a high priority for exchange.''

Mork said that when the Forest Service first expressed interest in the Favorite Bay site, timber values were much higher. The Forest Service thought it might work out an exchange of maybe 500 or 1,000 acres in Hobart at most for the pristine property.

But when timber prices tumbled, Mork said, suddenly the Forest Service was looking at exchanging 2,000 acres for 104.5 and its enthusiasm waned.

``We don't want to develop the land,'' Goade said. ``It's a pretty cool piece of property. It's not often you can come across a piece of property like this in a national monument.''

Goldbelt already has a prospect for the parcel.

Goade said the Native corporation has begun negotiations with The Nature Conservancy to whom he just happened to show the proposed advertisement.

``We're negotiating,'' Goade said.

The Nature Conservancy office in Anchorage declined comment on the purchase offer.



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