- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - A recently approved U.S. Senate bill secures a long-awaited land trade.

The $1.1 spending bill approved by the Senate on Thursday will permit a land trade between the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Mental Health Trust, the Ketchikan Daily News reports (https://bit.ly/2ph2zP3). The bill is heading to President Donald Trump’s desk for final signature.

The land trade has been an ongoing effort by the Mental Health Trust Authority Board. The board uses land proceeds to fund the state’s mental health services. The entities began the land trading process in June 2015. By May 2016, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation to complete the trade.

Last summer, the board, growing impatient, threatened to pursue timber sales on Deer Mountain and lands in Petersburg if the trade was not approved by Jan. 15. Deer Mountain is known for its hiking trails with spectacular views.

“This was something that we had tried to wrap up last year with the energy bill and we weren’t able to get that across the finish line,” Murkowski said, “and there were many in the region that were very concerned of the timeliness aspect.”

Ketchikan residents voiced opposition for the timber sales. The board softened its position on pursuing the sales, and with the approved trade, parts of Deer Mountain are spared from logging, according to reports.

“We’re at a point now where the president will sign the omnibus (legislation), and the exchange can move forward, and again helping the different constituencies, whether it’s the communities, the mental health trust or those working to address how we get a much-needed timber supply there,” she said.

The bill also secures funding for gauges to monitor water quality in transboundary rivers and the Forest Service’s recreational process for special use permits. It also contains language that will treat biomass fuels as carbon-neutral (green) energy sources.


Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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