Group opposes ethanol plant

Posted: Monday, August 07, 2000

Value-added. It seems like everything is value-added now. Sealaska Corp. wants to take Tongass old-growth and make ethanol out of it. Guess what they're calling it? You got it. Value-added.

Back when the pulp mills were turning Tongass old-growth into dissolving pulp, folks felt our forests might be worth something more than ingredients for diapers. Some people realized you could put more Southeast Alaskans to work turning local wood into products like windows and furniture. Folks called this new approach high value-added, because many more locals would have jobs adding value to our wood.

In contrast, Sealaska's ethanol plant would employ far fewer Alaskans than the pulp mills, only 28 to 40 workers. It will require large federal subsidies - already $4 million this year. The ethanol plant could become a pulp mill with a different name, gobbling up our old-growth to meet the plant's demand for ``low-quality'' wood.

The Tongass contains some of the finest remaining old-growth wood in the country - clear and close-grained. A small fraction of the forest is poor quality for making finished wood products. If the best we can do with these old-growth trees is to use them (instead of Iowa corn) to make ethanol, then we shouldn't log them at all. They're worth more for fish and wildlife. As for wood waste, it can be mixed with fish waste to produce compost, burned to fuel drying-kilns, and used to co-generate electricity.

Sealaska owns over 330,000 acres and is worth more than $350 million. If it wants to build a plant, it should use its own money and its own trees. But we all know this isn't the plan. They'll ask Uncle Ted for millions and demand a big slice of the Tongass every year.

Sealaska should send its ethanol plans right where they belong - to the trash can. And as for a name for the idea, let's try another one like ``boondoggle.''

Marc Wheeler

Southeast Alaska

Conservation Council


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