Alaska News

Neighbors, village corp. clash over Kodiak Island logging operation

A Kodiak Island logging operation that has been underway for more than four years is now facing opposition from nearby homeowners, who are tired of the noise, the traffic and the unsightly aftermath of clear-cutting and are concerned that further timber harvests could follow.

A group of residents of Chiniak -- a small community about 40 miles southeast of the city of Kodiak -- is trying to stop commercial clear-cut logging that has been going on in their area since 2010 on land owned by Leisnoi Inc., an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation. While Leisnoi's timber harvest is nearing its end, some Chiniak residents worry it could spill over to nearby Kodiak Island Borough and state lands.

Leisnoi said it plans to use the proceeds from the logging, estimated to be a few million dollars, to secure its future. Chiniak residents claim the clear-cutting is ruining their quality of life, destroying the landscape and endangering the area's fish and wildlife.

'We are using the resources granted to us'

Chiniak is an idyllic coastal community on Kodiak Island, with a mix of commercial and sportfishermen, artists and retirees. Between 50 and 100 people, depending on the season, live along 7 miles of highway.

But since 2010, the area's roadways have been clogged with heavy logging trucks and road-building equipment rumbling down the street during early morning or late evening hours, according to Peter Hanley, a part-time Chiniak resident. A retired BP environmental scientist who also has a home in Anchorage, Hanley is part of a group of more than a dozen Chiniak residents trying to stop the Leisnoi logging and protect the area's remaining stands of Sitka spruce trees.

The logging was commissioned by Leisnoi on about 6,500 acres of land it owns in the Chiniak area. After trying to back out of its contract with A-1 Timber Consultants in 2011 -- a move that led to litigation and a change in the corporation's board of directors -- Leisnoi said it is committed to the project and wants Chiniak residents to know that the logging is being done within prescribed environmental regulations and with a "sincere respect of the land." But its new board acknowledges that the immediate effects of clear-cut logging -- uniformly cutting down all commercially viable trees in an area -- can be shocking.

"It's a hard thing when you go out there and it has been freshly cut and you look at it," said current Leisnoi CEO Von Veeh. "It is hard to see that, but on the flip side of that, that is Leisnoi's future that's providing jobs and dividends to our shareholders."


Veeh is not alone in his observation about the visual effects of clear-cut logging.

"It is barren," said Bonnie McWethy, a Chiniak resident who commercially fishes salmon out of Kodiak. "You can't even tell there used to be a forest there. It is just a wasteland."

But the corporation and its critics disagree on the logging's long-term effects. Leisnoi said it has already planted more than 1 million seedlings in areas already logged.

"If you look 10, 20 years down the road with what we envision, it's going to be bountiful," said Jana Turvey, who will take over as Leisnoi's CEO on Jan. 1.

Leisnoi was formed under ANCSA, the 1971 law that established 12 regional corporations and more than 200 local village corporations. With annual revenue of less than $4 million, Leisnoi is small compared to other Native corporations. It has, in its relatively short history, been plagued by years of lawsuits with regional corporation Koniag Inc. and area landowners over surface and subsurface rights. A review of one of those lawsuits, Leisnoi v. Stratman, conducted by the University of Montana School of Law, calls Leisnoi's struggles "a 'real world' application of the complexities of ANCSA" that "exemplifies the difficulties inherent in ANCSA which have led to extensive litigation, despite the contrary intentions of Congress."

Leisnoi boasts only 400 shareholders, with about 50 of them living on Kodiak Island itself. Beyond the timber harvest, its prospects for revenue are bleak, according to corporation officials, who said that the decision to continue logging in Chiniak was a difficult but necessary one.

"Today, we are using the resources granted to us from Congress to provide economic resources to our Shareholders," Leisnoi CEO Veeh wrote in an email to Alaska Dispatch News.

Veeh said the timber -- a total of about 120 million to 150 million board feet -- is being sold in Asia, and Leisnoi's share of the proceeds will be used to purchase real estate in Anchorage and the Lower 48.

"The Sitka spruce trees are providing for a future for Leisnoi," Veeh said.

Concern that operations will expand

But some Chiniak residents question the wisdom of continuing the logging, which has about 18 months of work left in the area. Most of the trees that are being cut are old-growth, with an average age of 120 years.

"They have every right as an ANCSA corporation to use the lands as they see fit for the benefit of the shareholders," Hanley said. "There is no disagreement with that. (Our) concerns are the environmental and community impacts of what they have done."

Hanley and others complain about the constant noise the logging trucks cause. They also worry that the logging company -- Washington state-based A-1 Timber Consultants -- will continue trying to secure more logging rights near Chiniak.

Hanley said Leisnoi also tried to get access to thousands of acres of timber northwest of Chiniak, near the Sacramento River, but was turned down by state Department of Natural Resources officials. But Leisnoi said it doesn't believe that A-1 Timber will be doing any more logging on Kodiak after the completion of its timber contract in 2016.

Still, Hanley and other Chiniak residents are worried that the logging operation could find new ground on Kodiak Island. Hanley and his group said they have tried working with Leisnoi and A-1 Timber to address their concerns but are repeatedly ignored, a claim that Leisnoi denied.

Hanley said he hopes that plans to harvest the remaining 20 million to 50 million board feet on the Leisnoi contract can be scrapped. And after several meetings with borough officials, and despite reassurances that Leisnoi's logging won't bleed over to other Chiniak area lands, Hanley remains unconvinced.

"What they have done is abused the local residents for the last four years and that will continue for another year," Hanley said. "If I could stop them tomorrow, I would."

A-1 officials have repeatedly refused to respond to inquiries from Alaska Dispatch News. But a previous effort to get the Kodiak Island Borough to lease the company its 800 acres of land near Chiniak was quashed after dozens of Chiniak residents turned up for an October 2013 borough assembly meeting at which the proposal was being discussed.


"Over the course of 18 months, different aspects of it were looked at, but when it came down to making a decision, the Assembly decided to not go forward with logging now, in large measure because of public opinion," said Kodiak Island Borough resource management officer Bob Scholze.

"I would have to say that logging that 800 acres is pretty much off the table," Scholze added.

Scholze said the borough is currently going through land-use regulations and will conduct a work session on proposed regulations, including logging rules, on Dec. 11.

Sean Doogan

Sean Doogan is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.