City deal may stop logging

Municipality trying to protect land by buying or swapping property

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

The city is in negotiations to acquire private property near Eagle Beach slated for timber harvest.

W.R. Tonsgard Logging and Lumber, operated by William "Shorty" Tonsgard, has filed a notice with the state about plans to harvest timber on 135 acres of property near Herbert River.

The discussions come at the request of Juneau Assembly members. City Lands and Resources Manager Steve Gilbertson said the city is in the initial stage of discussions to purchase the property or pursue a land trade.

"We hope to reach a quick resolution on whether it will work or not. We want to find out early on whether we can reach common agreement," he said.

Gilbertson said the city is interested in acquiring the land with the trees standing. The city owns land on the west side of the Tonsgard property.

Murray Walsh, a planning consultant representing Tonsgard, said anything is possible.

"Mr. Tonsgard is clearly willing to sell the property or trade it for other land. It's a matter of seeing if a reasonable deal can be made," he said.

Neighbor Kristi Allen has asked the Assembly to find a way to protect the area.

"It's an intact ecosystem and very sensitive habitat that supports abundant wildlife," she said in an interview. "The ecological integrity of the entire valley is in jeopardy, and recreational opportunities will be affected by aesthetics."

The state last year filed a lawsuit against Tonsgard-owned Channel Construction over an easement on Boy Scout Camp Road and the Herbert River Truck Road. The case is still pending, Assistant Attorney General Peter Putzier said. Tonsgard removed a gate blocking an access road to the camp and will keep the road open until the issue is resolved.

The state had looked at a land exchange for property in the area, but isn't pursuing the issue currently because of the complications involved, said Ron Schonenbach, Southeast regional manager for the Division of Mining, Land and Water.

Tonsgard said he is upset about the controversy that has erupted over the land. He purchased the 147-acre property to build a home and has been made into a public villain, he said.

"Everyone in Juneau seems to have something to say about whether I can build a house. It's a real personal deal," he said. "My main concern is who is behind this and why it has gotten to this point."

Tonsgard said he didn't buy the property with the intention of logging it.

"If I have to log it to pay for litigation, I will," he said.

Tonsgard has filed a detailed plan of operations with the state, as required by the Alaska Forest Resources and Practices Act, forester Joel Nudelman said. The plan calls for harvest on 135 acres, although Nudelman said the allowable harvest likely will be less than that.

The departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation are reviewing the plan to make sure it complies with regulations, he said.

The plan calls for harvest to start in December. Tonsgard cut timber on about six acres of the property last year, Walsh said.

A proposal to set up a gravel mining operation on the property has been put on hold until other issues play out, he added.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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