September 20, 2016
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski
709 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Murkowski,
Congress passed the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act, granting an entitlement of one million acres of federal land to the Territory of Alaska in 1956. The purpose was to generate revenues for the benefit of Alaskans with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Board has a fiduciary responsibility to: (1) maximize long-term revenue from Trust Land; (2) encourage a diversity of revenue-producing uses of Trust Land; (3) manage Trust Land prudently, efficiently, and with accountability to the Trust and its beneficiaries; and (4) protect and enhance the long-term productivity of Trust Land.
In just the last two years the Trust has provided 59 grants to organizations in SE, totaling over $3 million. Another 323 Trust beneficiaries in SE have been awarded mini grants from the Trust totaling over $482,000. The Trust needs to create revenues from its land and resources in order to continue provide these types of services.
For nearly a decade the Alaska Mental Health Trust has been seeking to exchange forested Trust lands near downtown Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, and Myers Chuck, in exchange for US Forest Service timber lands of equal value in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and on Prince of Wales Island.
The exchange of the 17,341 acres of Trust lands for up to 20,580 acres of US Forest Service lands of equal value would avoid the potential adverse impacts on tourism, recreation, wildlife management, and watershed protection while sustaining what remains of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska by providing more timber lands that could be managed on a sustained yield basis.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Exchange bill is critical to maintain the current timber industry in SE Alaska by providing the Trust the ability to offer sufficient timber supply until other lands owners can place enough timber on the market during the transition to young growth harvest. Trust timber sales will provide required timber for the last medium size sawmill on Prince of Wales which supplies employment for 150 people. The timber industry provides many other jobs in SE communities.
I strongly urge you to pass the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Exchange bill to support the SE economy, communities, timber industry, and the Trust in providing mental health services in SE Alaska.
William Swift, Executive Director, Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce
2417 Tongass Ave, Suite 223 A
Ketchikan, AK 99901