Given enough incentive, powerful people can move mountains.
But it’s just one mountain of concern at the moment. That’s Ketchikan’s Deer Mountain, the object of the community’s latest debate.
Part of the mountain is within the Alaska Mental Health Trust. The trust’s board of directors and management have the fiduciary responsibility to manage trust land to its benefit, realizing returns to pay for mental health services in Alaska.
The trust’s directors — after waiting 10 years to exchange its land on Deer Mountain and some other acreage in Ketchikan, Petersburg and other areas — have decided to harvest timber on the mountain if Congress doesn’t approve the proposed land swap by Jan. 15. There’s no time like the present for the most return because of the near extinction of the timber industry. Waiting any longer only increases the likelihood of a drop in value of the mountain for the trust.
This week the directors reaffirmed an August decision to proceed with a harvest. The trust is on track to offer a timber sale in January.
Meanwhile, the trust will have two informational meetings open to the public on Tuesday.
It will be valuable to both the trust and the public to listen to one another. The discussion is amongst Ketchikan residents who recognize the value of Deer Mountain to the community, and, jointly, to the timber and tourism industries. The economy and jobs are intertwined with the industries and of no small importance.
Of course, the least impact to the mountain is what’s desired. That means no harvest. But, again, the trust has a responsibility to fulfill. If timber harvest is to occur, it should be in an aesthetic manner, perhaps through a helicopter-logging operation. Only trees that will result in a financial return are wanted, and helicopter logging has worked out in Blank Inlet with no detectable visual scar.
Ketchikan’s timber industry, which dates back to the early 1900s, most definitely has the expertise to make that happen.
That is critical because tourism is to the community what mental health is to the trust. Ketchikan cannot sacrifice one for the other. They are undeniably connected, as Ketchikan residents and other Alaskans benefit when mental health provides services. Mental-health patients, their family and friends, and their community realize a benefit from jobs and a healthy economy.
The tone moving forward should be one that will result in a win for the community, of which mental health plays a part.
The trust has set a deadline of Jan. 15. In the meantime, the Alaska congressional delegation, Gov. Bill Walker, local government leaders and the industry could resolve the issue.
It might take the drawing of a line in the sand, but so be it. Congress will be in a lame-duck session after the Nov. 8 election. But discussions about Deer Mountain’s future should have been taking place in the two bodies since August and before. With enough incentive, powerful people in Congress can be made to act even in the shortest time period.
Undoubtedly, Gov. Walker will be involved. He heard first hand about the issue earlier this month when he visited Ketchikan.
His tendency toward leadership over politics will play well in this case. W
ith that, there are 11 weeks to resolve the issue. Eleven weeks is nearly a quarter of a year. Still, there’s no time to lose.
Tuesday’s public meetings will be at 3 p.m. at the Saxman Community Hall and 7 p.m. at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
Let’s talk solutions.
— Ketchikan Daily News, Oct. 29, 2016