After a very short public information process which consisted of a series of three meetings to pass along information to the residents of the locally-affected area and little consideration for other more cost-effective alternative renewable energy sources, the Alaska legislature has passed a bill in favor of supporting construction of the 700-foot high Susitna River Dam hydro-electric project in the heart of pristine wilderness and on one of interior Alaska's largest salmon-spawning rivers. There are local communities lying in flood-plain areas along the Susitna River as well, which is located within just a few short miles of the siesmically-active Denali Fault. Although the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) held these meetings, no opportunity for proper public opinion or commentary has been given and the legislature is moving forward in spite of public concerns. This is a decision that affects the salmon, other wildlife, local residents and property owners, and the local economy which relies heavily on tourism's draw to the Upper Sustina for sport fishing, rafting and riverboat sight-seeing and remote wilderness travel.
We ask the legislature to take two immediate actions:
1) Postpone appropriating 65.7 million initial dollars for planning, design, licensing,
and permitting of large hydro until the following has occurred:
2) Address fundamental questions regarding the dam, including but not limited to potential hazards and impacts on habitat, communities, economy, tourism, the watershed, wildlife and fisheries.
There has been no public process about the dam's economic, fisheries, habitat, or social effect. Billions of state dollars invested in the dam require a public process before proceeding with even initial funding.
The information meeting held by the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) in Talkeetna on February 28th offered no opportunity for public comment or meaningful discussion. The moderator chose which questions were asked by the drawing from a hat, and follow-up questions and commentary were not allowed, even to point out that the question wasn’t answered. And, while AEA did not properly or thoughtfully answer questions, they did mention that the decision has been made that the large hydro project will be a Susitna dam or dams, in spite of the fact that there as another alternative which is less costly and less environmentally-affective at Chakachamna Lake.
It appears that the State is moving too quickly on a project of such great magnitude in terms of cost, size, and potential impacts. We ask that you and representatives of AEA hold appropriate public process and exercise due diligence before the FY2012 Capital Budget is adopted.
Our fundamental questions and concerns include:
1) What will happen if the proposed Susitna dam fails from earthquake or structural flaw, or other disaster? As we’re learning from events in Japan, it is not sufficient to say that dams don’t have catastrophic failure or that 9.0 earthquakes don’t happen.
2) New technologies are developing that make other energy sources viable such as tidal, deeper-well natural gas extraction, solar and wind and their commensurate battery-storage, geothermal, and micro-hydro, so why is the State putting all its eggs into the one basket of Susitna when a portfolio of different projects makes more sense?
3) Billions of state dollars must finance the dam. How is that economic reality factored into the ultimate cost of electricity from the dam? A state subsidy that lowers the cost of electricity to the consumer is part of the cost of the dam and should be made apparent in discussions with the public.
4) AEA made many assumptions when developing its comparison of Lake Chakachamna and Susitna, but AEA says they cannot give cost estimates until they know future interest rates. In order to make capital investments, most businesses evaluate projects by developing scenarios that depict costs under various interest rate environments. AEA should be directed to prepare such an analysis, and we would like to see it.
5) Given the fact that the dam will increase the water temperature of the Susitna River in winter, what will happen to salmon fry if they hatch early with no food supply? How will the construction of the dam and post construction of the dam impact water quality?
6) The South Central region relies on tourism for its economic sustenance, which is predicated on accessible wilderness, a rare commodity anywhere on earth. How will the reduction of wild land by damming the Susitna effect that economic base?
7) Large electrical need from extractive industries and industrial users of those resources are projected to be necessary to pay back the cost of the dam. What and where will those industries be?
8) Since the potential exists to create sustainable green rail belt electricity without the enormity of the financial and environmental costs of the Susitna dam, those alternatives require public input before proceeding with funding for the dam.
9) What will be the authority of AEA? What provisions will be made for public participation and legislative oversight of AEA? Our concern is that AEA will be given authority with little or no meaningful oversight by the public or even by the legislature.
Thank you for your consideration of these issues which are of paramount concern.