Posted: Monday, January 12, 2004

Kenai Peninsula logging boom winding down

HOMER - The shutdown of a wood chip operation in Homer this month marks the end of a decade-long logging boom on the Kenai Peninsula that was partly fueled by an epidemic of tree-killing spruce bark beetles.

Gates Construction, which runs the Homer Spit operation, has told the city of Homer it's closing up shop due to poor markets and dwindling supplies of salable trees.

A last wood chip ship is due into Kachemak Bay on Jan. 18. Round logs remaining on the Spit will be shipped out in a special load to Korea at the end of the month, city officials said.

The closure brings to an end a boom on the western peninsula that began in 1992 because of high timber prices and accelerated over the next 10 years to harvest trees killed by the bark-beetle infestation.

Now, most of the accessible trees have been cut or have lost their value, turning brittle and stale after years as standing beetle-kill. Sustained poor timber markets have not helped.

"It was a pretty classic boom-and-bust type scenario," said Jim Peterson, area forester for the state.

Study points to source of Denali haze

FAIRBANKS - Denali National Park and Preserve is a treasure trove of information about the former Soviet Union and the surrounding area, according to a study by a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor and former student.

As Walter Wilcox worked through the two-year master's thesis project, he noticed when economic activity and growth decreased in Russia, the level of airborne pollutants recorded in Denali National Park declined.

Wilcox and professor Catherine Cahill surveyed data about the level of airborne pollutants, or "Arctic haze" as the pollutants are known. The haze develops during the winter months when conditions are prime for them to travel long distances to be recorded in the park.

The breakup of the former Soviet Union and the reduction of industrial production there that followed cleared up some of the Arctic haze.

Cahill said few scientific experiments result in such clear correlations.

"To me it was mind-boggling that they correlated so well," she said.

Wilcox, now an environmental consultant for an Anchorage-based firm, and Cahill wrote an article that summarized their research and was recently published in EM, a magazine for environmental managers published by the Air and Waste Management Association.

Examining Arctic haze in Alaska isn't new, Cahill said. Barrow has been a common location for taking measurements in part because the brown or yellowish tinge contrasts so greatly with the mostly white landscape. But until now, no one had ever thought of Denali National Park as a good location for studying airborne pollution.

But the lack of studies in the area was not due to an absence of data.

A gas and aerosol sampling station in the park had been collecting airborne pollution measurements since 1988.

Railroad official says depot decision due soon

FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Railroad Corp. plans to announce soon whether construction of a new Fairbanks depot will begin this year, railroad board chairman John Binkley said.

Binkley said he's optimistic the company will find the money to finish the depot on schedule.

About $6 million of preparation work for the depot and a new loop track project - originally estimated to cost a total of $22.5 million - is already completed.

Rising lumber costs and Fairbanks' busy building season appeared to keep some contractors from bidding on the project, said Brett Flint, railroad manager of facility construction.

Along with the new depot, the railroad wants to build a loop track that crosses land now owned by Sourdough Express and Golden Valley Electric Association. The railroad must acquire the land before that part of the project can proceed.

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