Trash plant: a boon to region?

Kake Tribal's planned incinerator could end barging waste Outside

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Kake Tribal Corp. is looking for trash.

The for-profit Native corporation for about 650 shareholders hopes to build a regional solid-waste incinerator on its land in Kake, on Kupreanof Island northwest of Petersburg.

Most larger Southeast communities barge their trash to Washington state or Oregon, and small villages continue to add to open dumps. Juneau and Skagway burn trash in incinerators.

Kake Tribal Corp. President Sam Jackson called the proposed plant a "waste-to-energy" facility last week at the Southeast Conference meeting in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. It would lead to further industrial development at Point MacArtney.

The steam released from burning trash, de-watered fish waste and wood waste would generate electricity, which could power other industries yet to be developed at the site, such as a wood products facility, company officials said. The ash would be turned into products such as roofing tiles and wall panels, they said. Steam left over from generating electricity also would be used to clean up soil contaminated with hydrocarbons.

But the plant needs volume to make it work financially, Jackson told Southeast Conference members, most of whom are representatives of local governments and business interests.

Duff Mitchell, chief operating officer of Kake Tribal, said the waste facility could handle 100 tons a day. Southeast communities generate up to 135 tons of municipal waste a day, and the plant would need at least 60 tons a day to be feasible, he said.

City officials said in interviews that the Kake plant would have to beat the prices and match the stability of current long-term hauling and disposal contracts, and take responsibility for any liability for the garbage.

Kake Tribal can't count on trash from Juneau, which produces about half of Southeast's garbage, because it is burned by a private company, Waste Management, which also runs a landfill in Juneau and owns a big landfill in the Lower 48. Kake Tribal also would have to convince small villages, which now don't spend much on their waste disposal, to do so.

Five Southeast cities now send their garbage to the Lower 48 for about $65 to $105 a ton, including disposal costs, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Big landfills in the Pacific Northwest take advantage of economies of scale from handling thousands of tons of garbage a day, said Glenn Miller, an environmental engineer in DEC's solid waste program.

"In solid waste, the economy of scale is really important," he said.

Ketchikan pays $65 a ton to dispose of its trash in Washington state, a "pretty decent rate," said Bob Sivertsen, the city's supervisor of solid waste. The city is in the sixth year of a 25-year contract and couldn't get out for four years, Sivertsen said.

Besides looking at price, Ketchikan would have to consider the stability of a company before it switched contracts, he said. "There's a lot to be said about having security with your solid waste."

Transportation will be a critical element in Kake Tribal's proposal, observers said.

Mitchell said Kake Tribal has been talking to barge companies about getting the best rates to ship to Kake, where there's already a barge dock. "They're already driving past Kake. It's just a matter of dropping it in Kake rather than driving on to Seattle," he said.

Petersburg disposes of about 30 tons of trash a week in Washington state for about $85 a ton, said Acting City Manager Bruce Jones. Kake Tribal would have to beat current prices and assure cities that they won't have further liability for the garbage, he said.

"That's the beauty of being able to ship it out once the door closes on the container, it's not only out of sight, it's out of mind," he said.

Jones said he's a "big proponent" of a regional facility, but the major obstacle has been the cost of barging trash from smaller communities to a central location.

Barging villages' trash to Kake would be more expensive than what they're doing now running dumps that don't comply with regulations, said Heather Stockard, manager of DEC's solid waste program. Barging could be less expensive than running dumps correctly, she said. But, she added, "No matter what (villages) do, they can't figure out a way to pay for it."

Kake Tribal Corp. also owns timber, two seafood processing plants, a fuel facility, a hydroelectric utility, a construction company and a small tourism operation. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 1999.


Eric Fry can be reached at

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