Local News

Questionable tree removal on MHT land?

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Last month, several trees were removed from a parcel of Mental Health Trust Land in Wrangell. The trees were near a series of power lines. But, there have been concerns about whether or not the cut was done properly.

The land in question is at 12.5 mile Zimovia Highway. It’s near Pat’s Lake and McCormack Creek in the area known as the Pat’s Creek Bridge Corridor. It’s close to a popular hiking spot.

Wrangell Municipal Light and Power requested to remove potential hazard trees near the power lines on Mental Health Trust land.

Mental Health issued a license to Light and Power to remove the trees.

Paul Slenkamp is the Senior Resource Manager for the Mental Health Trust Land office. He oversees the statewide forestry management program.

Slenkamp said Mental Health did not have a hand in deciding which trees were cut.

“Wrangell Power and Light is the expert in determining hazardous trees. So we left it to their discretion to identify hazard trees and remove them,” said Slenkamp.

Slenkamp said it was an issue of public safety and safety of the power lines. He said it was not a timber harvest.

The Trust Land office received some photographs of the cut area along with concerns from local residents.

That prompted the office to send Slenkamp to look at the site.

“When I got there after the trees were removed, it was difficult to say whether they could have reached the power lines or not. I would have to say that I’m not sure whether I would have called them hazard trees or not, but then that wasn’t really my place,” said Slenkamp.

Clay Hammer is the Electrical Superintendent for Wrangell Light and Power. He said it’s taken over a year to plan the cut.

“We agreed that anything that was tall enough to actually reach the line, we wanted to go ahead and get those out of there to mitigate future problems,” said Hammer.

Hammer says Light and Power made a verbal agreement with Mike Allen to take down the trees. Allen is the owner and operator of Mike Allen Enterprizes, a small local saw mill.

While Slenkamp was investigating the site, he said he did see a few potentially problematic cuts.

“Well, I went and walked the area and it may very well be possible – there was an access road that they cut in to get some machinery in there and that is questionable,” said Slenkamp.

Hammer said the access road was cleared so the workers could haul timber off the site in the opposite direction of the power lines.

The trees are very close together in that area.

So he said he thinks the road was necessary for both the safety of Allen’s workers and the power lines.

“The risk of swinging big timber in close proximity to the lines—you know, that’s something that can get someone killed. And we definitely, at all cost, want to avoid doing that,” said Hammer.

However, Hammer said, he does have some concerns about one part of the site.

“I don’t know if it was just a person kind of losing their place, losing their spot in the woods there when they’re making the initial cut or whatever. But there were a few of the trees that were a little bit close to the creek there that I would just as soon see stay,” said Hammer.

He said it’s not clear to him why the trees were removed, but it was at the discretion of Allen’s crew.

“It’s kind of hard to say what’s going on when there’s the guy in the woods trying to make a decent judgment call when you’re surrounded by trees and you’re down there with a saw. You know, you’re trying to do the best you can. You’ve got your instructions and you work through them the best you can. I’m hesitant to second guess the guys on the ground,” said Hammer.

Slenkamp said that the Trust Land office will follow up. But, he won’t say definitively whether or not the trees were wrongfully cut.

“Once it has been done, it’s difficult to tell them they shouldn’t have done that,” said Slenkamp.

But, Hammer said, he’s waiting for the Land office to finish their investigation. Once it does, his workers can start cleaning up the area and salvaging the wood.

Mike Allen could not be reached for comment by deadline Wednesday night.

 

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