United States Department of the Interior
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
240 West 5th Avenue, Room 114
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
IN REPLY REFER TO:
September 2, 2004
Dear Residents of the Wrangells, community members from McCarthy, Kennecott, Slana, and Slana Alaskans Unite:
Thank you for meeting with me in Kennecott and Slana in July. I appreciate the time you spent to convey your concerns and comments and thought that our discussions were very productive. I hope that you will continue to communicate with the local park staff and myself. I committed to you that I would respond to your concerns and comments heard at the meetings. Below are responses to the broad categories of concerns I heard. I apologize for the length of time it has taken me to complete this reply, but wanted to include information from both meetings to as comprehensive as possible in my response.
I thank you for your thoughtful and helpful comments concerning the traits that the new Wrangell-St. Elias superintendent should possess. Please understand that I will consider your comments carefully as the selection process progresses. I hope to have a selection completed so the new superintendent can arrive in mid to late October. I will convey my expectations to that individual that they extend an invitation to meet with you as soon as possible after their arrival. I also encourage you to extend an invitation for the new superintendent to attend any of your scheduled meetings where the dialogue we began can continue. I will provide notice to both Susan Smith and Teresa Albaugh on who we select for the position and ask that they forward the information to both the Residents of the Wrangells and Slana Alaskans Unite. Although I am the selecting official, the process requires the approval of the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. An announcement cannot be made until that approval takes place.
Residents of the Wrangells investigation request/conduct and ethics issues
The information that Residents of the Wrangells submitted to Governor Murkowski was sent to the Department of Interior Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting and investigation. The OIG evaluated the information provided and found no evidence of fraud, misconduct or illegal activity. Subsequently, the information was referred to the National Park Service (NPS) Internal Affairs office. This office investigates any allegations of misconduct by commissioned law enforcement personnel. This request was declined for the same reason that the IG declined to investigate. I have requested an administrative review of several of the allegations be conducted by members of my staff in Anchorage. A Law Enforcement investigator at the Regional level has been assigned the responsibility to further evaluate the complaints. Individuals who submitted information to Residents of the Wrangells should expect to be interviewed by the Regional Investigator in the very near future. Should disciplinary action result from the information obtained through the final review, that information is not subject to release to the public as employee disciplinary actions are protected under the Privacy Act.
Hart D Ranch
This topic was well covered at the Slana meeting on July 31. The Hart D Ranch is being actively marketed for sale by its owner. The National Park Service did evaluate whether or not we could acquire the property as a visitor center location on the north end of the park. After careful consideration, we advised Ms. deHart that while her property might serve that need, there was no funding available to immediately purchase her property and suggested she pursue other means to sell her land. On her own, she has continued to pursue interest in the property being made into a visitor center. Should she succeed in finding a buyer willing to acquire and then donate the property to the National Park Service, ANILCA Section 1306 allows administrative sites and visitor facilities to be outside the boundaries and within the vicinity of a conservation system unit. NPS policy does not apply to her private activities. The NPS has not identified funding for this property in its land acquisition program.
Aggressive land acquisition
The National Park Service has acquired land within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve by purchase, donation and exchange. Almost all such acquisitions have been at the request of the owners and were not initiated by the NPS. No acquisitions have occurred within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve if the owner was unwilling to sell. Most purchases have been at Kennicott, where the NPS first acquired several thousand acres from the Great Kennicott Land Company, and subsequently has acquired individual lots from other owners who approached the NPS about purchasing their lands. Also, in accordance with section 1302(g) of ANILCA the NPS has responded where possible to landowners’ requests to purchase their properties if they were experiencing financial hardships. The NPS has also purchased mining claims from willing sellers.
Regarding the Long Lake properties included in the inquiry from the Residents of the Wrangells, legislation relating to a proposed hydroelectric project in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve designated certain state-owned lands around Long Lake as potential property for exchange. No decision has been made to date on whether these lands will be exchanged.
The park has approached the University of Alaska with an offer to purchase the property to the northeast end of Long Lake. The University is reviewing the offer. Cordova Fishermen United, the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the park are all concerned that private development of the lake shore could imperil the spawning beds of the Long Lake sockeye salmon.
Relationship of park residents to the park mission
Alaska park residents and neighbors have a relationship to the National Park Service that is unique in the country. In Alaska, and in Wrangell-St. Elias in particular, park residents and neighbors share in the future of the park as subsistence users, as local hire employees, as visitor service business providers, as sources of traditional ecological knowledge, and as members of community organizations active in historic preservation, advocacy and service. Park staff and their families are residents and park neighbors as well, and we encourage their participation in the vibrant life of the Copper Valley. Together, we have been able to conserve resources important to the community and the nation to a degree that the National Park Service could not have achieved on its own. You have my commitment that the park and regional staff, and the new superintendent, will continue to create and sustain the ties that bind us as good neighbors.
I encourage local residents to work locally with both park staff and the local citizen representatives to the Subsistence Resource Council for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve as the appropriate avenue to address issues on subsistence activities. Issues relating to access for subsistence are best discussed with park management, including the questions specific to the signs mentioned on specific trails. Without more specific information regarding the question on “Welty timber request” and “green timber policy,” it is difficult to respond.
Rights of Way Process/General Access/public process concerns:
We understand there is a need to better explain and administer requests for rights of way to private properties within park boundaries. The region has undertaken a project to develop a user’s guide for access to non-federally owned property within park boundaries throughout Alaska. At the request of Governor Murkowski, this effort is being done in concert with State of Alaska ANILCA coordinators. The draft guideline will be available for public review before it is completed this winter. It is intended to assist private property owners as well as NPS managers in providing a comprehensive understanding of the existing laws and regulations that outline the rights of way procedures. We have a positive responsibility to work with individual property owners to address the unique circumstances of their rights of way needs. We invite your active engagement in reviewing the proposed guideline this winter. Also, we may be able to conduct one Environmental Assessment to address several access issues within the park, rather than handle each request individually. We recognize we can do a better job in our communications and in involving local residents in our decision making. Please work with us to assure your voices are heard.
Public Use Cabins/Helicopters
The inventory of public use cabins within the park is listed on the park’s website at www.nps.gov/wrst/cabins/cabins.html. Access varies depending upon the cabin location. The inventory of cabins has remained the same since the early 1980’s. Cabins have been repaired or replaced when necessary, to make them habitable by the visiting public. Please contact the park regarding specific concerns or issues regarding cabins within the park.
While public access using fixed-wing aircraft is specifically provided for in ANILCA, use of helicopters for administrative purposes by the National Park Service is governed by NPS policy that requires evaluation of several factors. These factors include limiting use to mission critical or emergency activities where there is no practical alternative; safety, wilderness management implications; impacts on resources or visitors; impacts on other administrative activities, and overall cost effectiveness.
Law Enforcement Personnel
Law enforcement personnel are required by policy to wear their personal protective equipment and to carry their defensive equipment while on duty. This policy is in effect servicewide. Because law enforcement officers have recently been killed in the line of duty, the agency has adopted the policy and individuals with law enforcement responsibilities are expected to adhere to the policy. Similar policies exist for most law enforcement organizations throughout the country.
I have chosen to remain silent on a number of the topics that have been the subject of court actions. I do not believe my interpretation would be appropriate as the issues have been heard and adjudicated by the courts based on facts provided by the individuals involved and by the National Park Service.
I appreciate the willing participation and candor in the meetings at Kennecott and Slana. I encourage you to work with the park staff as they are usually the best source of information. As I stated at the meetings, we need to have open dialogue on an ongoing basis so issues and concerns can be resolved as quickly as possible. I look forward to continuing the dialogue we began and involving the new superintendent in the opportunity to get to know you as park neighbors. I appreciate how strongly you share similar values of protection of park natural and cultural resources and I honestly believe we have many common concerns and interests that can be the basis of a more collaborative relationship.
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