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Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority approves land exchange

January 6, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A state agency plans to swap land in southeast Alaska for federal land that can be developed for timber sales.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority board on Thursday approved a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service that will trade 18,000 acres (7,284 hectares) of trust lands for 20,000 acres (8,094 hectares) of federal land, the Juneau Empire reported .

The trust lands are scattered throughout southeast Alaska and the exact amount to be traded must be worked out. Wyn Menefee, director of the trust authority land office, said the land exchange will be the biggest in the trust’s history.

The trust was created to provide leadership in services for trust beneficiaries, including Alaskans with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic alcoholism and traumatic brain injuries. The trust is endowed with about 1 million acres (404,685 hectares) of land.

The trust hopes to earn money off its newly acquired lands with timber harvesting. The acreage could yield $40 million to $60 million over the next 20 years, according to the trust.

Lands received by the U.S. Forest Service will be protected under terms of the trade, Menefee said. The overall aim is to protect “viewsheds” while logging less-sensitive lands to earn money for the trust.

The trust will give up nearly 2,700 acres (1,093 hectares) of land on Douglas Island that includes the Mount Bradley Trail, known locally as the Mount Jumbo Trail. The Forest Service as part of the deal will not allow logging on lands it’s receiving, Menefee said.

“The Forest Service won’t be doing any timber cuts on it,” Menefee said. “It will most likely be managed for recreation.”

Forest Service representatives could not be reached for comment because of the partial federal government shutdown.

The amount of land received by the trust will depend on appraisals. Appraisers have not completed their work.

It’s also not clear whether all the land the trust gains will be used for timber, Menefee said. If there are more lucrative uses, trust officials will consider them.

“Timber harvest is one of the primary ways that the trust can monetize its assets but other potential revenue generation options will always be considered,” Menefee said by email.

An initial land exchange is planned for January. A second phase, including the parcel on Douglas Island, is planned for 2020.

The board’s approval was one of the last steps in a process that has taken more than a decade. The exchange required both state and federal legislation.

President Donald Trump signed a federal bill into law in May 2017. Former Gov. Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 88 into law in October 2017. Both bills authorized the exchange.

The federal bill states that the primary goals of the exchange are to preserve the natural beauty of Southeast while creating jobs and serving the goals of the trust.

Menefee said the deal is a “win-win” for the trust and the Forest Service.

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