My turn: SEACC's torturous proposal

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007

It's environmental waterboarding.That's what the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council's latest proposal is - pure and simple. In case you missed it, on Tuesday the Empire ran a news article which said that SEACC is pushing Goldbelt - Juneau's urban Native corporation - to move its proposed dock and transfer station from Goldbelt property at Cascade Point in Berners Bay to Yankee Cove.

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The Cascade Point dock and transfer station is a critical element in Goldbelt's business plan to develop its private property and to form an economic synergy with Coeur Alaska's effort to reopen the Kensington gold mine.

What is especially galling to me is that Goldbelt's board has for decades taken the environmentally responsible position when it comes to development of the 2,700 acres which the corporation owns in the Echo Cove-Berners Bay area. Goldbelt's "reward" for its efforts to accommodate those groups concerned with its land development plans has been roadblock after roadblock - parading under the banner of "environmental protection."

There is a substantial amount of history in play regarding land that Goldbelt was awarded under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. There is also a fundamental question of fairness that we as Alaskans owe to the first Alaskans - our Native neighbors.

Under ANCSA, Goldbelt was given the right to select certain lands on the Tongass National Forest. Goldbelt's board, as it is required to do under its fiduciary responsibility, looked at a wide choice of land on the Tongass, focusing on those lands which held the highest promise of economic return to its stockholders, among other factors.

Among the properties selected by Goldbelt was land on Admiralty Island (another Native urban corporation also selected land on Admiralty Island as part of its entitlement which they later logged).

Opposition to the selection of land on Admiralty was swift and vocal and helped trigger what became known as the "off Admiralty" movement. Environmentalists, and others interested in protecting Admiralty from any development, pushed hard to encourage the Native corporations to make selections in areas of the Tongass outside of Admiralty Island.

The net result of the "off Admiralty" movement, and Goldbelt's willingness to accommodate those concerned with protecting Admiralty Island, was the selection of alternate acreage at Echo Cove, Hobart Bay and West Douglas Island.

Since the Admiralty-Echo Cove-Berners Bay land exchange took place in 1979, Goldbelt has patiently been developing plans for responsible development of that property.

This latest proposal from SEACC poses another potential roadblock in Goldbelt's plan to move forward with a responsible development plan for property at Berners Bay which the corporation exchanged for its Admiralty Island selections.

In my view, SEACC's latest proposal is unfair and borders on economic harassment. Hasn't the time come to allow Goldbelt the same economic opportunity that any private citizen or corporation enjoys under Alaska law - to develop its private property in an environmentally responsible manner? Enough already.

• Jerry Reinwand was Gov. Jay Hammond's top aide during his second term and served in the same position for then-Sen. Frank Murkowski in the senator's Washington, D.C., office. He is now a lobbyist, and he and his family have business interests in Juneau.

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