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Alaska Mental Health Trust considers $500 land-use fee for snowmachiners and ATV riders

JUNEAU — The agency that funds Alaska’s mental health treatment programs is considering a $500 per-year fee for using a snowmachine or ATV on its vast tracts of state land.

In a public notice filed last month, the Alaska Mental Health Trust announced plans for a new permit program that would require Alaskans to pay before using trust lands. The trust owns nearly 1 million acres of land statewide, including extensive tracts in the Matanuska Valley, along the Chuitna River, and near Point MacKenzie.

According to information provided by the trust, the new permits are intended to help the organization raise additional revenue and compensate for damage done by those who use the land.

By email, chief communications officer Allison Biastock said the trust does not have figures on how many Alaskans use trust-owned land, but “there is consistent interest in using trust land non-commercially for recreation, firewood harvest, ATV and snowmobile use, and trapping. Also, during field inspections, trust land managers consistently see where new use has occurred on trust land without authorization.”

The cost of the permit would offset damage done in those cases.

“A portion of ... land management is stewardship, and unauthorized use has resulted in Trust lands being harmed or devalued through abandonment of structures and/or trash, significant rutting in wetlands, trail blazing, etc,” she wrote.

Under the proposed fee schedule, a “non-commercial recreation general permit” would be $500 per year and would allow Alaskans to use motorized vehicles on trust land. Hiking or other nonmotorized use would not require a permit, and existing easements across trust land are not affected. Firewood or trapping permits are $250 per year.

The permit is nontransferable — the buyer couldn’t give it to a friend for the weekend — but only one permit is needed per family, as long as the family is traveling together across trust land.

Biastock said the trust envisions selling permits online.

The trust already sells permits; according to regulatory documents, an exemption allowing motorized use is being eliminated.

The trust is an independent state agency charged with providing services to Alaskans who need mental health treatment. According its 2018 annual report, the trust has more than $600 million in assets, most of which is managed by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

Created in 1994, the trust has in the past few years generated between $28 million and $29 million per year for mental health treatment in Alaska. That’s a fraction of what the state spends overall. House Bill 40, the state’s integrated mental health budget, includes about $220 million in spending.

The trust is taking public comments on the permit program through 4:30 p.m. June 24. Comments can be submitted to mhtlo@alaska.gov.

If the trust proceeds with the permit program, only those who have submitted comments can ask for reconsideration.

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