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Susitna Dam meeting in Talkeetna attracts agencies and residents

by Sue Deyoe ~ August 31st, 2011

The residents of Talkeetna, Chase, Susitna and Trapper Creek might be the only ones in the state who have a chance to sit one and one with the Federal Regulatory Commission, Alaska Energy Authority and other engineers to discuss the future of the Susitna Dam.  Over 50 residents packed into downtown Talkeetna Monday afternoon to ask questions about the upcoming licensing process for the proposed Susitna Dam and were the first to hear about the licensing process and future studies.  Sue Deyoe was at the meeting and filed this report…

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A team of 8 individuals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Alaska Energy Authority fielded questions for 2 and a half hours in front of a crowded community arts center in downtown Talkeetna.

The proposed Susitna Dam project is headed for the FERC licensing period and earlier this year, Representative Mark Neuman promised his Upper Susitna Valley constituents a meeting with officials to discuss the overall FERC licensing process and AEA studies.

The meeting, most likely to the dismay of a few, was contained, quiet and thoughtful..

Sara Fisher Goad, Executive Director of AEA, was just one of the officials that took questions from the floor and said she was happy with the content of the meeting…

SFG “…participate in it” :08

The next step in the process, she says, concerns the PAD – the Pre-application document…

SFG “…for the PAD”  : 21

AEA and FERC officials were in Talkeetna to do a site visit to the Susitna Watana Dam site.  Usually a proposed dam site is not visited by the FERC team until after the PAD is filed.  However,  the FERC team was in Alaska for the National Hydropower Association annual meeting in Girdwood and AEA believed a summer site visit would make more sense than a winter visit.

Richard Leo of the Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives was at the meeting and believes the FERC officials and AEA were not  in Talkeetna for convienence..

RL “ …quickly its being pushed”  :31

The surprise at the meeting for many residents,  came when Fish and Game and NOAA attendees present debated the timeline with the FERC officials and for 20 minutes or so, the room was taken over with concerns by agencies that study hydrology, wildlife and other impacts.  They said their timelines were too strict and called the process inadequate….

Cassie Thomas, with the National Park Service, threw a new study guideline into the mix.  She said the licensing process was amended in the late 80s.    Electric Consumers Protection Act changed she says….

CT “  …for the use of public resources    “ :21

She says recreation possibilities over the next 50 years needs to be examined…

CT “….  Future recreation any more”  :29

Aside from comments from agencies, residents asked questions about wildlife studies, potential impacts to fish, impacts from a receding glacier, change in water temperatures as well as licensing timelines for what will become the 5th largest dam in the US.

Although the possibility of Susitna hydropower has been studied off and on for over 30 years, the legislature recently appropriated 65 million dollars for studies and to start the licensing process.  Fisher Goad of AEA says it is likely AEA will be asking the State for tens of millions of dollars each year over the next several years to continue funding studies necessary in the process.

There is one more public meeting on the process with FERC official and AEA in Anchorage on Friday.

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