A section of the subport subdivision, pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

A section of the subport subdivision, pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: The Alaska Mental Health Trust and Juneau

The Alaska Mental Health Trust owns a three-acre Juneau waterfront tract, commonly known as the subport property. It is one of the most valuable undeveloped parcels in our community.

A proposal involving the subport has been advanced that would include a small boat harbor, mixed use retail/residential units, a facility named the Oceans Science Center, and an extension of the seawalk. The subport lot owned by the Mental Health Trust is a small part of the land requirement, but it is considered a key to the plan.

As citizens of Juneau, we could easily support this proposal, but as trustees, our fiduciary duty is to the beneficiaries of the Trust. Although a decision has not yet been made regarding the parcel, it is a decision that will be made in the best interests of the beneficiaries.

We serve as trustees because of our strong belief that Alaskans, who might otherwise suffer unconscionable hardships, deserve to receive compassionate care and services.

The Trust, much like the University of Alaska, is a land grant institution. A substantial amount of acreage in Southeast Alaska is owned by the Trust, much of it timberland and mining claims, as well as many isolated parcels within community boundaries such as the subport property.

Through land transactions and investment income the Alaska Mental Health Trust is able to distribute millions of dollars in grants for services to about 65,000 Trust beneficiaries — almost one in 10 Alaskans. Nearly two dozen organizations in Juneau that provide services to these Alaskans receive crucial financial support from the trust.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust is able to distribute these grants entirely through its earnings without funding support from the State of Alaska.

Trust management is guided by the board-supported policy of realizing the highest and best use of our real estate assets, which might be through development, lease, or sale.

A “highest and best use” of a trust property transaction is not entirely dependent on cash values. A lot sale or lease might involve a reduced cost if this would result in a viable project to provide services to Trust beneficiaries.

It would be irresponsible for the Trust to dispose of land for a general public purpose rather than for the people we serve. To make a decision about something as potentially valuable as the subport property, trust management is seeking an objective assessment. A well-regarded urban planning firm, recently hired by the Trust, is analyzing the subport property and will make a recommendation. The current proposal may meet our standards. We do not yet know, but we will inform the people of Juneau soon after we receive the company’s report.

To understand what is at stake, please consider that this year (Fiscal Year 2018) $3.8 million in grants went to Juneau organizations including the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc. (JAHMI), Adding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), and Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) Inc., in amounts ranging from almost $160,000 to just under $5,000. These are often keystone grants that make other funding possible to provide everything from direct services, to adaptive sport and safety training, to employment transition services.

As issues develop concerning Trust property here in Juneau and elsewhere in Southeast, please realize that we as fiduciaries must adhere to our duty of care and stay focused on that which is best for the people served through the Trust’s grant process. To do otherwise would be a repudiation of our responsibilities.

• Laraine Derr and Carlton Smith are both long-time residents of Juneau. Laraine, recipient of the prestigious 2015 AARP Alaska Andrus Award for Community Service, has served the trust as Vice-Chair of the Board and chairs the Audit Committee. A Juneau businessman, Carlton previously served on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly. He serves as chairman of the Trust’s Resources Committee and has chaired the Finance Committee. Appointments to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Board of Directors are made by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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