Timber harvest agreement in place, SEGA prepares to cut some trees

Timber harvest agreement in place, SEGA prepares to cut some trees

(A Waratah danglehead processor, similar to the one to be used by SEGA to harvest cottonwood around Galena)

Much of the Galena City Council meeting last night was spent discussing recent developments with the biomass energy project in Galena.

Sustainable Energy for Galena Alaska, or SEGA, is the group that is set to harvest local trees for a wood-fired heating system on the base.  There had been delays in securing a timber sale agreement with the landowner, village corporation Gana-A’Yoo Limited, and in getting contract engineers to finish the design plan for the wood boiler and the system to distribute its heat around the base.

But the City Council on Thursday heard about advances on both of those issues.

The Council had already agreed to sidestep legal hurdles with the timber sale agreement by entering the City of Galena into agreement with Gana-A’Yoo directly.  SEGA General Manager Tim Kalke reported that the new terms of the agreement were acceptable to everyone, giving the project the green light to begin cutting trees.

Kalke:  “After many, many months, and lots of going back and forth, the timber sale agreement is officially official.  So that is very exciting.  Now that that has happened, many dominoes have fallen that are getting us in place for our training session that will start on the 26th.  We submitted a detailed plan of operations to the Division of Forestry and Gana-A’Yoo that outlined approx. 80 acres of balsam poplar [cottonwood] that we could harvest, and we were hoping that would be the entirety of our first year fuel supply.  This is in the Johnson Slough area, near the EOD trails, west of the airport.  And in fact, we found approx. 30 acres of quality stand. We measured the trees and crunched the numbers and the calculations came out that it would be about half of the first year fuel supply.  So not as much in there as we were desiring, but a good start.”

SEGA recently took legal ownership of the timber harvest equipment that it will use to cut down trees and turn them into wood chips.  The City of Galena originally purchased the equipment with a state grant.

Now SEGA is looking for a warm place to maintain and store the rigs.  Kalke explained that the old state shop on base looks like a perfect candidate, but the likely presence of asbestos might complicate the transfer of the building from the state to local ownership.

Kalke: “Needless to say there are some risks involved with that, and some money involved with that.  But I can’t stress enough how importantit is for SEGA to have a place to call home in terms of maintenance, and take care of this half a million dollars’ worth of equipment that we now have.  It’s a paramount, because we are relying on that equipment to go get that fuel supply.”

The City Council also chose to switch engineering firms to Anchorage-based Coffman Engineering.  Several council members have been critical of the current firm, Gray Stassel Engineering, for failing to deliver designs and documents on schedule.

Coffman Engineering estimates a total design cost of around 340 thousand dollars for the biomass project, including the design of the wood boiler, the heat distribution system, and a plan for keeping water and sewer lines from freezing.

The current system relies on waste heat from steam pipes to keep adjacent water and sewer lines from freezing, but the heat distribution network on the base is likely to switch to a hot water-based system, which offers greater efficiency.

Coffman Engineering suggests that the new wood-based heat system on base could be up and running by September 1, 2016.

By Tim Bodony

Published at KIYU radio, Galena on October 22, 2015

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