Peninsula plants would be step in right direction

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005

More possible good news is on the horizon for the Kenai Peninsula — and it couldn't come at a better time.

The talk of a proposed laminated veneer plant in Seward and a fiberboard plant in North Kenai is just the kind of step forward needed in moving the peninsula's economy along.

Not only are backers saying it will create 500 jobs between the two plants, but imagine the trickle down effect as far as revenue for schools, businesses and the borough.

Even though the proposal is still in its early stages — Anchorage-based firm Northern Development Consultants requested $265,000 from the Alaska Legislature last month to conduct studies for the two plants — the borough already has thrown its support behind the project. So have members of both communities.

Willard Dunham, a Seward City Council member, said timber is a resource that is not being used and the plant would benefit the community.

"(It would) open up a new industry that we don't have," he said.

Not only that, but timber is a renewable resource.

Sure, there are issues that will need to be addressed. No one wants to see irresponsible logging, and every concern needs to be faced and an acceptable solution found.

But we have the resources to show we can meet this challenge. We can manage our forests, protect our environment and help our economy in the process.

A good example is the planned reopening of the veneer plant in Ketchikan. It is being championed by the community, and no wonder. The former Gateway Forest Products veneer plant at Ward Cove is expected to be up and running by May, bringing 40 new jobs and a $1.2 million payroll into the Ketchikan Gateway Borough economy.

Ted Falconer, a retired plywood manager for Weyerhauser Co. from Gig Harbor, Wash., said there also are plans for a plywood operation in Ketchikan, which would add 60 more jobs. Falconer said the veneer plant alone most likely would add additional area jobs, bringing the economic benefit of about $2 million annually to the area.

Now make that 500 jobs to the Kenai Peninsula, and we figure that's a payroll of about $15 million a year.

Jack Brown, business development manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said it's possible to have the feasibility study complete and the beginning of construction on a plant started within a year.

That's good news. However, there are a few hurdles that need to be overcome between now and then.

As members of the affected communities, we need to ask Gov. Frank Murkowski to make the timber available, Brown said. Those sources are in the Matanuska and Tanana valleys, he said.

The next step is to show the timber companies that we mean business. Past experiences have not necessarily put the state in favorable light with these companies, according to Brown, and Alaska needs to demonstrate its ability to harvest and process the product.

But before any of this can take place, there needs to be money to do the study.

Murkowski has been a longtime supporter of the timber industry in Alaska. As for Northern Development's proposal, the governor's spokesperson, Becky Hultberg, said it will have to go through the legislative process.

Our hope is that it makes it through the process and moves forward.

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