The Wrangell Borough Assembly voted last week to support getting rid of the federal “roadless rule” on the Tongass National Forest.
The roadless rule prevents roads from being built on certain tracts of U.S. Forest Service land. Assembly members want the Tongass to be exempt from that rule to open the country’s largest national forest to more development and logging.
Assembly members voted unanimously to adopt a resolution asking Gov. Bill Walker to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the roadless rule and reverse it for the Tongass.
Assembly Member Julie Decker said the roadless rule makes any kind of development difficult.
“The total acreage of the Tongass is 16.8 million acres. Without the roadless rule, there’s wilderness designation and other land set-asides for 5.6 million acres. A full one-third of the Tongass is completely off limits to development,” Decker said. “Then if you put the roadless rule on top of it, that’s an additional 9.6 million acres. That’s 90 percent of the Tongass.”
After years of reversing and reinstating the roadless rule, the most recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the exemption.
Several Alaska lawmakers are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the roadless rule exemption. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough supports the exemption, but the Petersburg Borough Assembly narrowly missed passing the resolution of support.
Petersburg assembly members who voted against the resolution cited protection of fisheries and the high cost of litigation as reasons for keeping the roadless rule in place.
The Wrangell Borough Assembly also decided to reconsider the new property tax due date it set earlier this year.
Starting in 2016, property taxes will be due by Sept. 15 each year. But the assembly may change that date to Oct. 15 to coincide with when Permanent Fund Dividends are paid to Alaska residents.
The first reading of the new property tax ordinance will take place at the Sept. 22 borough assembly meeting.