Mat-Su Borough Assembly approves Chijuk Creek timber contract

Two pickups passing on Oilwell Road, where locals are concerned that significantly larger timber trucks will make such encounters dangerous. (Photo courtesy of Donna Massay)

After two hours of testimony and debate on Tuesday night, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly approved a five-year contract for a large timber harvest in the Trapper Creek area. Under the contract timber will be cut, trucked to Port MacKenzie and shipped to China.

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More than a dozen Trapper Creek residents and property owners turned out for the meeting, and nearly all of them shared concerns over the contract. While almost everyone testifying says harvesting the timber could be a good thing, they also believe that the road infrastructure, specifically Oilwell Road, is simply not up to the task. Chris Wood lives on Oilwell Road, and says its construction was one of expedience in the oil drilling days.

“They cut trees down, laid them across a road on top of frost heaves, and put dirt on top of it. If the trucks didn’t sink through, they moved to the next spot,” Wood said. “That is Oilwell Road; 105,000 pounds isn’t going to fly.”

That figure is the estimated gross weight of a loaded timber truck. In addition, those trucks will need about twelve feet of space to maneuver safely down the road. In many places, Oilwell Road isn’t much wider than that, making passing difficult. While there are plans for turnouts and clearing to increase visibility, that plan has not yet been made public. The public process in general is also a cause for criticism for some in the area of the timber harvest. Donna Massay, who serves on the Trapper Creek Road Service Area advisory board, says the locals should have been a bigger part of the process for the new contract.

“Why can’t we have a public hearing in our community with the community council—be listened to?” Massay asked. “If it had happened at the beginning of this, we would not be there tonight. It would have been solved on a local level. You would have had a good process. This is not a good process.”

A third source of criticism is what happened last time Chijuk Creek was leased. Ronnie Bell, who owns property on Oilwell Road, says evidence of poor execution of the last timber contract is right out in the open as you travel the road.

“You’ve seen all the logs laying out there, all the waste, and it’s still laying there,” Bell said. “Is this going to be a summary of the next thing? It’s going to happen again?”

Not everyone spoke against the contract. Don Dyer, head of the Mat-Su Economic Development Corporation, says revenue from the contract, particularly to Port Mackenzie, is very important.

“A million dollars a year of revenue to this borough, revenue that supports the lifestyle in Trapper Creek and Talkeetna,” Dyer said. “For the rest of the borough, it pays for our schools.”

The public testimony had a clear impact on the borough assembly. Assembly Member George McKee says he supports the concept of the contract, but that there are too many unanswered questions.

“It has been fast-tracked, and there are real problems that could have been addressed and should be addressed. The transportation problem is something that has to be addressed,” McKee said.

While the contract is now approved, it won’t go into effect until the borough’s planning department approves a transportation plan. After a lengthy debate over whether that approval should rest with the assembly instead of staff, a promise from Borough Manager John Moosey to report on the public feedback regarding the plan before its approval was enough to sway all but Assembly Members George McKee and Jim Sykes.

Once the borough releases the proposed transportation plan, the public has thirty days to comment.