After a spending freeze by the governor and multiple attempts by the legislative minority to place it back into the state’s general fund, the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project team will now be allowed to spend over six million dollars it has left from previous years. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.
Last week, a memorandum from the state’s Office of Management and Budget lifted the spending freeze on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project instituted by Governor Bill Walker in December. Walker’s order had halted new spending on six projects, including the proposed 735-foot-high dam on the Susitna River.
At the time of the administrative order, the Alaska Energy Authority, the state corporation in charge of Susitna-Watana, said it had around $30 million remaining from previous appropriations. Of that, $6.6 million was unencumbered. The rest was already committed to studies for the proposed megaproject.
Emily Ford, spokeswoman for AEA, says, now that the funds have been freed up, the pre-licensing study process will continue through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“We’re just going to be picking up where we left off as part of this Initial Study Report Process. We essentially pushed a big pause button in the middle of that effort by filing for a license abeyance with FERC. So next, what we’ll do is lift that abeyance and resume with the FERC schedule.”
The money that AEA is once-again allowed to spend on Susitna-Watana represents just over three percent of total allocation to the current project proposal to date. Emily Ford says that means there are not currently plans for the type of large-scale research that took place in the Susitna Valley over the last two years.
“The focus and the goal is to preserve the investment that the state’s already made in the project by either wrapping up studies that are near completion or synthesizing data that was collected in the field and making sure that it’s in a usable format.”
After that, it will be up to the legislature and the governor to determine whether additional funds go to Susitna-Watana. AEA estimates the project’s cost at over $5.5 billion, and Emily Ford says that the agency plans to act based on the funding that the state’s fiscal reality allows.
On Thursday, the Talkeetna-based Susitna River Coalition, a group opposed to Susitna-Watana, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Governor Walker’s decision. The Coalition cites criticism by federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, of studies conducted as part of the early phases of the project. Coalition board member Becky Long believes the decision runs contrary to Governor Walker’s stated policy goals, and that Susitna-Watana, if built, would be costly beyond the price tag for construction.
“We have to look at future litigation costs, future mitigation costs, and, in general, the governor has been talking up a lot about fiscal responsibility and fish-first policies. And we think this goes against those policies.”
Becky Long says the Susitna River Coalition is concerned that AEA may not be able to finish the studies already underway without cutting corners, which could lead to litigation.
Now that the fiscal picture has, at least temporarily, cleared, AEA plans to establish a new schedule with federal regulators. That schedule will include public meetings on the Initial Study Report completed last year. AEA’s Emily Ford says those meetings will likely occur in late fall of this year.
Submitted by the family:
Longtime Alaska resident and beloved wife and mother, Mrs. Patricia Josephine Grosz, née Callahan, 69, passed away at home surrounded by family on Sunday, June 28, 2015.
Patricia was born on August 18, 1945 in Spenard, Alaska to Nellie Ivy Callahan, née Atwater, and John Leahy Callahan. She was the second youngest of 4 siblings. Her father nicknamed her “Paddy” when she was young, inspired by her name and her Irish heritage. When Paddy was a little girl her father moved the family to Gold Creek. The family homesteaded there for several years before becoming seasonal residents, spending summers out on the tracks and winters in Anchorage. Read More »
King salmon season has ended in the Northern Cook Inlet Region, and at least one river posted the highest counts in five years. On the Deshka, which has housed a fish weir since 2011, 23,609 kings were counted as of Monday. The Deshka was one of the few places where anglers could potentially take a king salmon home. Numbers from 2011 to 2014 failed to reach 20,000 fish. The Deshka’s escapement goal is between 13,000 and 28,000 king salmon.
On the Little Susitna River, the 4,727 returning kings are a significant increase over the last two years. Data from a handful of years in the eighties and nineties is also available for the Little Su, and the only year that topped this year’s run was 1988, when nearly 8,000 kings returned to the river.
Other Upper Valley rivers did not have counting weirs, but anecdotal reports from catch-and-release areas tell of fair-to-good fishing.
The two Anchorage residents charged with causing the Sockeye Fire were burning lawn debris, according to charging documents filed with the Third District Court in Palmer. The affidavit, filed by investigator Thomas Greiling, says that there was evidence of three piles burning at the Ringler Circle lot where the fire began.
According to the affidavit, multiple spent fireworks were discovered on the scene, but Greiling says that there is no conclusive evidence that they were part of the cause of the 7,200-plus acre blaze.
The affidavit claims that Greg Imig admitted to burning four piles of debris on the property, and that Imig was not certain that the burn piles were fully extinguished before leaving them unattended.
The charging documents say that Amy Dewitt also admitted to burning debris piles. Dewitt told investigators that she was unsure if one of the piles was out, and she placed boards on it, believing that they would begin to burn if the fire was still hot. Greiling believes that particular pile is the one that ignited nearby woodlands and started the Sockeye Fire.
Imig, Dewitt, and Dewitt’s juvenile son left the lot in a motorhome due to the fire. Dewitt says she called 9-1-1 from the property before leaving. Greiling says Dewitt did not provide the location or cause of the fire to authorities. The affidavit says there is evidence of a rapid exit from the property, and that a chainsaw, gas cans, and jack pads for a motorhome.
Greg Imig and Amy Dewitt are charged with eight misdemeanors related to the ignition of the Sockeye Fire, including burning without a permit, failing to clear the burn area, allowing the fire to spread, leaving a fire unattended, criminally negligent burning, and three counts of reckless endangerment. Four of the charges are Class A misdemeanors, and carry maximum penalties of $10,000 and one year in jail. The other four charges carry penalties up to $500 and six months in jail. Arraignment is scheduled for July 28th.
A call to Greg Imig was not returned before deadline.
On Monday, the State of Alaska filed charges against two Anchorage residents for starting the debris burn that turned into the 7,200 acre Sockeye Fire. The fire destroyed fifty-five homes and damaged forty-four other structures, according to the state.
In a press release issued Monday afternoon, Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says that charges were filed against 59-year-old Greg Imig and 42-year-old Amy Dewitt. Charges include three counts of reckless endangerment, negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, not clearing the burn area, and, ultimately, allowing the fire to spread unattended.
The Division of Forestry and Alaska Fire Marshal’s office say that Imig and Dewitt were burning debris on the evening of June 13th near their cabin at mile 77 of the Parks Highway. The state claims that the fires were left unattended, and one continued to smolder, igniting the nearby forest the next day.
The charges facing Imig and Dewitt are all misdemeanors, four of which carry maximum penalties of $10,000 and a year in jail, each. Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says that individuals responsible for starting a wildfire can be held accountable for two-times the cost of fighting the fire. The state’s latest estimate on the cost of suppressing the Sockeye Fire is eight million dollars.
by: Katie Writer – KTNA, Talkeetna
This past Saturday, the Walter Harper Ranger Station and University of Alaska’s Museum of the North hosted a Culture Camp Open House. Local students have been conducting an archaeological dig at a site in Downtown Talkeetna, and invited the public to see what they found. KTNA’s Katie Writer attended the open house and has this report:
Denali National Park Archeologist Phoebe Gilbert led a group of Youth Conservation Corps members in a dig next to the Ranger Station.
“One of the first things the students found was a metal dinner plate with an enamel cover [and] ’T.S. Germany’ on the back, so that was pretty cool. That was within the first five minutes of the dig.” Read More »
Talkeetna performance poet Ellen Thea
reads her poems Shawoman, Big Mama, and Blue Moon Turtle.
She is accompanied by Dennis Ransy on percussion.
In the fullness of the moon,
in the fullness of her moon,
not a word
or hair may catch fire