The Wrangell Borough Assembly held a special meeting Friday to discuss possible intervention in a lawsuit to support the Big Thorne timber sale on Prince of Wales Island. Several conservation groups are trying to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s planned sale, and businesses and municipalities are intervening to push it through.
The assembly decided to postpone the vote until Tuesday’s regular assembly meeting. Assembly members will decide whether to intervene in the lawsuit, to file as a friend of the court, or to stay out of it.
Wrangell resident Stephen Todd told the assembly he opposes intervention in the lawsuit because about half the logs would leave the state in the round.
“Jobs and opportunities go out with these unprocessed logs,” Todd said. “Most of the rest of these logs that are cut on the Big Thorne sale will be minimally processed. Many of the logs will be shipped out with just one side cut off of them to meet the export and processing requirements. And then they’ll be manufactured out of state.”
Todd added he would like to see a shift toward timber sales that would allow smaller mills to process timber in Southeast Alaska.
The borough would have to pay $5,000 to intervene in the lawsuit. Intervention allows Wrangell to comment throughout the case, but it limits comments to this specific timber sale. Filing as a friend of the court gives Wrangell one chance to comment on the lawsuit, but includes considerations for future timber sales, like the proposed Wrangell Island sale.
Assembly Member Daniel Blake said he saw no choice but to support the Big Thorne timber sale.
“After going through the legal briefs and all the letters that were submitted, I understand that if this sale doesn’t go through, it will directly affect us, our economy locally,” Blake said.
Assembly Member Julie Decker said she wants to intervene to show support for the Forest Service’s decision to make this sale.
“When it takes them four and five years to put a timber sale out to the public (as they’ve been working on the Wrangell island sale—it’s been close to that amount of time), I’m pretty confident that they’re doing a very thorough job of dealing with the issues, looking at the science,” Decker said.
Assembly Member Stephen Prysunka said he will not support intervention, but he supports the borough filing as a friend of the court.
“I want to get involved because I want to ensure that the cut that Wrangell’s got proposed is done in a measured way, is done over a long period of time, and is done to the benefit of our local mill,” Prysunka said. “I have great concerns of shipping timber overseas in the round or with minimal cuts.”
The assembly postponed the vote to determine the cost of filing as a friend of the court, as opposed to intervening in the lawsuit.
About 35 residents sent or signed letters asking the assembly to file as a friend of the court. Five residents sent letters opposing intervention in the lawsuit.