ECON 919: Funding local conservation efforts

Sep 21, 2018

It’s been nearly 30 years since the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, and mitigation projects that sprang up as a result of the spill are still going on around the state and here on the peninsula. 

The conservation organization Great Land Trust is currently in the process of buying two properties along the Kenai river for the purpose of keeping them undeveloped in the name of conservation. This is done under the umbrella of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trust Council. Dave Mitchell is the Conservation Director at the Great Land Trust. He filled in the Kenai city council recently on how the whole thing works.

“The property goes to either the state or the federal government and then the other entity holds a conservation easement on the property. In this case, the property will go to the state and the federal government will hold the conservation easement, which restricts the uses of the properties. All of these properties are habitat projects. They’re not for development for a boat launch or anything like that. They’re strictly habitat projects.”

The parcels in question would comprise four public plots near Cunningham Park. The other two are owned by the Department of Natural Resources and the city. Mitchell says that while giving these parcels conservation easements is intended to keep them from being developed, it doesn’t mean they can’t be used for public access.

“It will be up to the managing entity to determine where that balance is between impact to the resource they’re trying to protect and the resource. So it will be managed, I imagine, similarly to other DNR that’s managed by state parks and Fish and Game along the lower river, in that some areas are managed for habitat and public access isn’t allowed in some places because of impacts, and I’m guessing it will be something similar. But public access in general isn’t restricted on the properties.” 

The project came about in 2012, when Great Land Trust was contracted by the EVOSTC to prioritize habitat areas for species that were affected by the spill. That, of course, includes salmon, and so here we are on the Kenai river.

“And the landowners, the Lofstedt estate and the Shuey family reached out to the EVOS program. They’re willing landowners who came to the EVOS program to see if we were interested in their properties. The Loftsedt property is 10 acres. The Shuey property is 12.5 acres and they ranked high in our prioritization.”

And their not the only conservation tracts in the area. Two islands out in the river in the same area are now owned by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust for the same purpose. Mitchell says his group is currently in talks with both property owners to come to a deal to sell those lands.

This week’s number: 73, as in dollars, which was the average price for a barrel of brent crude oil in the month of August. That’s down two bucks from July, but prices have generally been on the rise all year and look to continue in that direction in the near term, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That $73 price point was the expected average for 2018 and that should go up a dollar next year. West Texas Intermediate is expected to fetch about $6 less per barrel in 2019. Production, as well, continues to increase in the U.S. EIA expects U.S. producers to pump about 10.7 million barrels per day next year.

On the natural gas front, EIA is expecting 2018 to see a ten percent increase in production, and that trend should continue into next year. Natural gas inventories have been relatively low this year, compared with the previous five year average, a result of high residential and commercial demand early in the year, in addition to more exports.