The Alaska Earth Works Project
A Business Venture of Sitka Tribal Enterprises, 1998
Sitka, Alaska is a small community of about 8,900 people without road access to or from outside markets. The community has a limited amount of developed commercial and industrial property, and a cost of living above the national average. These conditions create barriers to many kinds of economic development.
Up until the Alaska Pulp Corporation's mill closure in 1993, the wood products industry was one of Sitka's leading basic industries (industries that sell goods or services to markets outside of the local area and generate growth in the local economy). APC's closure resulted in a loss of $19 million in payroll and over 400 jobs in Sitka. According to the McDowell Group's 1995 Statistical Update to the Sitka Economic Base Study, Sitka's 1995 employment and payroll remain below 1993 pre-closure levels. About 20% of APC's pre-closure work force were members of Sitka's Native community. Based on 1990 census data and data presented in The 1993 Native Needs Assessment conducted by Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Native community comprises about 20% of Sitka's population. Natives experienced an unemployment rate of 26% in the summer months and 42% during the winter months, and on average earned $11,959 per year. This compares to an annual unemployment rate of less than 10% and average earnings of $17,610 per year for Sitka's non-native population. In the October 1996 report titled Federal Work Participation Rates: ATAP Monthly Caseload Summary published by the Alaska Department of Public Assistance, of the 202 public assistance cases in this area, 114 are Native families. This means that 20% of the population makes up 56.4% of the public assistance caseload. This overall higher unemployment, lower earnings and higher participation in public assistance combined with lower average education levels attained by Native demonstrates a need for economic development initiatives targeted to assist Sitka's Native population.
Waste disposal in many cases has become a barrier to economic development or to growth in existing industries. Environmental regulations have evolved requiring more strict management of wastes, which increases cost to industry with no direct return. In addition to stricter requirements for waste management, the volume of waste from seafood processors, hatcheries and fishermen/processors has increased with increased fish returns. Logging in Southeast Alaska forests produces a high degree of defect timber unsuitable for saw logs. These utility grade logs have historically been chipped and used by the regional pulp mills. Sawmills will continue to need to dispose of the utility grade logs cut during harvest; however, APC's closure and Ketchikan Pulp Corporation's impending closure will leave no ready disposal source for this wood industry byproduct.
At the completion of the full facility, the Alaska Earthworks project will help alleviate both the wood and the fish waste problems and will create jobs for the community.
Who Initiated Program
Alaska Earth Works was conceived by the staff at Sitka Tribal Enterprises (STE) -- a non-profit corporation whose purpose is the development, support and management of economic development activities that benefits the citizens of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. STE is wholly owned by Sitka Tribe of Alaska and therefore has, in addition to its own corporate resources, the administrative, legal and financial support of Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
The long-term vision for the compost project is to develop and operate a facility that will create jobs for Tribal Citizens and make a nutrient rich organic soil-like compost from fish and timber waste. The compost will then be developed into a variety of products and sold in the company's market area.
Wood waste from regional wood processing facilities is being combined with ground fish waste from fish processors, fishers and hatcheries to make compost products, using aerated turned window technology. The project is being developed in two phases: Phase I is a pilot project to evaluate available materials, composting technologies and methodologies. Phase II will consist of implementing the findings of Phase I into a commercially viable composting facility.
Alaska Earth Works seeks to develop a commercially viable fish and timber waste composting facility that will produce marketable products from the organic wastes of other Alaskan industries and will serve as a model for other Alaskan communities.
Alaska Earth Works founders have initiated and fostered many positive business relationships and support from the community. These relationships and supporters include:
- United States Senator Frank Murkowski
- Alaska Representative Ben Grussendorf
- Alaska Representative Robin L. Taylor
- Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
- United States Environmental Protection Agency
- State of Alaska Department of
- Environmental Conservation
- State of Alaska Department of Labor
- Department of Commerce and Economic Development
- City and Borough of Sitka
- Sitka Sound Seafoods
- Sitka Fishers
- Alaska Marine Lines
- Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture
- Association, Inc.
- The Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce
- Viking Lumber
- Sitka School District
- University of Alaska Southeast
- Arrowhead Transfer, Inc.
- Samson Tug and Barge
- Sheldon Jackson College
For technical support, we have secured the services of E&A Environmental Consultants, Inc. They are a composting consulting firm based out of Seattle, Washington. Under contract to Sitka Tribal Enterprises for the startup and development of Alaska Earth Works, E&A is providing technical expertise and operational experience to the management team. E&A brings a team of professionals to the project, each with extensive experience in various aspects of recycling, waste management and composting.
Through their extensive experience, E&A has developed unparalleled expertise in all aspects of composting and organic waste utilization. E&A has been involved in beneficial reuse projects world wide ranging from waste characterization and feasibility studies, operations optimization, all aspects of composting facility and program design, leachate and odor control management, product marketing, pilot studies, and feedstock and product evaluation. In summary, E&A's experience allows them to help Alaska Earth Works select and design a composting facility that is most appropriate for its unique organic wastes, site and local conditions, intended product market and economic setting.
The materials used for the pilot project are simple -- perforated pipe is laid down with a layer of wood waste on top. The mixture of fish and wood waste is then placed on the base. Air is then either "pulled" or "pushed" through the pile with the use of a blower.
The pilot phase of this project was funded by Alaska Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Sitka Tribal Enterprises/Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
The estimated cost for the project was $164,197. At this point in the project, I suspect that the cost will be significantly less than that.
Results & Impacts
This project will add another basic industry to further diversify Sitka's economy, using locally available resources to manufacture marketable projects which will be sold in accessible domestic markets and possibly exported.
The project will provide an opportunity for fishing, seafood processing, wood products and other industries to dispose of organic industrial wastes in an environmentally and economically acceptable manner, thus reducing the need for costly industrial and municipal waste disposal, and increasing the potential for profit within these industries. Established seafood processors are expected to reduce their operating costs by disposing of fish waste via this composting project, thereby increasing cash available for expansion, employment and/or profit-taking. An acceptable outlet for disposal of fish carcasses is expected to foster development of a chum salmon roe fishery in Sitka Sound resulting in increased positions for crew and processing workers and greater returns to independent fishermen. Establishing a viable market for utility grade logs is expected to stimulate the wood products industry currently faced with no market for 18 to 20% of the logs harvested in each timber sale.
This project's raw materials are the waste stream of other local and regional industries. It is expected that the facility will not only generate income from sales of compost, but through tipping fees charged for accepting materials for processing.
Alaska Earth Works will benefit Sitka's Native population through a Native hire preference, and through dedication of its profits to future vocational education, jobs projects and economic development projects designed to benefit Sitka Tribe of Alaska members, per STE's corporate charter.
The successful completion of the pilot project will greatly increase the chances of the start-up of the full facility. At the completion of the full-facility (Phase II), the Alaska Earth Works facility will be covered and will consist of state-of-the-art composting technology. It will be divided into the following functional areas: wood and fish waste receiving/grinding; aerated composting pad; compost curing; compost screening; equipment storage; and an office.
This is the grand goal for 1998, but there are many smaller goals that will have to be realized before this goal is to be reached:
- funding for Phase II will need to be secured,
- marketing research and development will need to be completed, and
- the facility will need to be constructed in time for the summer 1998 season.
We feel that we will successfully reach our 1998 goals, especially with the continued support of our Tribal Citizens and the people of Sitka.
Problems and/or Suggestions
The STE pilot project has gone very smoothly, so we have yet to experience any problems. If anyone has specific questions, I am sure that STE could provide some useful advice (see contact information).
Coordinator at time of project, 1998:
Call or Write to:
Environmental Resources Manager
Alaska Earth Works