Sealaska: Prospects for ethanol?

Corporation studies possible plant

Posted: Monday, June 26, 2000

You can't build a bookcase out of sawdust, but waste wood can help make a car go.

That's the idea behind a possible ethanol plant in Southeast Alaska.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, is trying to get $2 million for study and possible engineering work on an ethanol plant in Southeast.

The money would go to Southeast's regional Native corporation, Sealaska Corp.

The money was passed out of the Appropriations Committee on Thursday along with the 2001 budget for the Department of the Interior, according to Stevens' office. The funding has yet to be approved by the full House and Senate.

Ross Soboleff, Sealaska spokesman, said it'll be a while, at least three years or so, before construction of such a plant would start. First, he said, the idea needs to be studied to make sure it will work.

``Over the past several years, we've had several timber initiatives,'' he said today. ``One is an ethanol plant that would use wood waste.''

He said that the idea is ``environmentally-friendly'' and will add jobs to Southeast.

Stevens' office did not return phone calls today.

According to Katya Kirsch, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the present wording of the appropriations bill allows for the use of healthy, old-growth trees, not just wood waste, at the ethanol plant.

She said the idea of such a plant is a bit extreme, and, in any case, there's no reason taxpayers should help pay for it.

``We think that if Sealaska wants to pursue this wild idea of making ethanol from old-growth trees, it should use its own land, its own wood and its own dime,'' Kirsch said. ``If it's feasible and economic, Sealaska should pay for it.''

Soboleff said the corporation isn't sure where the plant would be built if it proves to be a good economic idea, but it'll likely be located somewhere on the southern end of Prince of Wales Island.

``We haven't absolutely decided on a location yet,'' he said.

According to Soboleff, there'll be a demand for ethanol for use as an additive to gasoline so Alaska's big towns can comply with the Clean Air Act. He said Anchorage is now importing about 4 million gallons of ethanol, and will likely need more in the future. Also, he said, a market for ethanol in Fairbanks is developing.

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