Commissioner quits, takes job with forest-products firm

Head of state's environmental conservation to become exec with Weyerhaeuser in Wash.

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2004

Gov. Frank Murkowski's environmental conservation commissioner said Friday she is leaving the administration to supervise people who could be lobbying it on timber issues.

Ernesta Ballard said the opportunity to become senior vice president of corporate affairs with Weyerhaeuser Co. in Federal Way, Wash., was too tempting to turn down.

Ballard said her compensation package with Weyerhaeuser is two to three times what she was making with the state. Ballard's salary was $91,200 a year.

The company has 60,000 employees in 18 countries, she said. Murkowski's staff described it as one of the world's largest integrated forest-products companies.

"I would not have left the state but for that opportunity," Ballard said, speaking with reporters outside of Murkowski's office.

When asked if she would be returning to the Capitol to lobby for Weyerhaeuser, she said there are people in her department responsible for that. Still, she could take the opportunity to return periodically on behalf of her new employer "because of my fondness for Alaska."

"Ernesta has shown integrity and commitment in fulfilling the regulatory responsibilities of the Department of Environmental Conservation," Murkowski said in a prepared statement that said he regretfully accepted her resignation, effective Oct. 25. "We wish her well in her new assignment."

Murkowski named Deputy Commissioner Kurt Fredriksson as acting commissioner.

Ballard said she is proud of what she accomplished with the administration. In particular, she noted the state food safety program. She said the federal Food and Drug Administration cited it as trend-setting.

"We have not shrunk away from the tough issues," she said. "Bold initiatives are not without controversy."

Last year, Ballard's department refused to hold public hearings on new aerial pesticide spraying regulations. Hearings were later held by Democratic legislators. The issue became prominent in Southeast when the Native organization Klukwan Inc. applied for a permit to spray herbicides from the air on Long Island near the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island to aid timber growth there.

Aerial spraying is something that people will always oppose, Ballard said Friday.

She urged Alaskans to continue to support the natural resource development policies of the team Murkowski has put together.

"You have to have a vibrant economy in order to have environmental protection," she said.

"This state is very fortunate that people are willing to accept the challenge of public service," she said.

The private-sector package she is looking at is very attractive, and she had to balance it with the public-sector opportunity to work with public values.

Ballard, 58, joined the administration in 2002, coming from Ketchikan, where she headed an environment, health and safety consulting practice.

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