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Scoping meetings begin for Susitna Dam

by Lorien Nettleton ~ March 26th, 2012

The first of a series of scoping meetings for the proposed Susitna Watana hydroelectric dam took place in Anchorage today, kicking off the Federal Energy Regulatory Comission’s environmental impact analysis of the proposed 700-foot dam that The Alaska Energy Authority says if approved, the 4.5 billion dollar project could and supply an average of 200- to 300-megawhatt hours of electricity to the railbelt by 2025.

Talkeetna is the first community downriver from the Dam, and some residents are wary of the impacts the massive project could have on local river ecology.

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This week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission began a series of scoping meetings to identify issues presented by constructing a 700- to 800-foot dam on the Susitna River. The meetings are part of the dam licensing process, and FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller says all public testimony given at the meetings will be incorporated into the Draft Environmental Document, and the AEA will have to resolve any issues before submitting the formal application in 2015.

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The Scoping meetings take place in Anchorage on Monday and Tuesday, in Wasilla on Tuesday, Talkeetna and Glenallen on Wednesday, and in Cantwell and Fairbanks on Thursday.

The proposed Susitna Watana hydroelectric dam has plenty of momentum behind it. Last year the state gave the Alaska Energy Authority instructions to make the Dam happen, and invested 66 million dollars to back the project. Rick Leo is a member of the Coalition for Susitna Dam alternatives, and a longtime resident of the upper susitna valley. In February Leo had a chance to join Alaska Energy Authority’s new Susitna project manager Wayne Dyok for a conversation about the project.

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Jan Konigsberg from the Hydropower Reform Coalition says that the timelines established by the FERC licensing process were streamlined to assist pre-exisiting dams looking to renew their license. The timeline leaves two years for Federal and State agencies to conduct studies that will be used to inform the permit application, which Konigsberg says is not enough for an infrastructure project of this magnitude.

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The Alaska Energy Authority has voiced its support for a request by the Department of the Interior and the National Ocanic ad Atmospheric Administration for an extension on the comment deadlines, which would give those agencies a little more time to address the issues brought up in this weeks testimony.

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