Governor Sean Parnell is asking the Legislature for more money for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, but there’s a catch. To get the funds, the Alaska Energy Authority must secure land access to study areas owned by seven Alaska Native Corporations.
Earlier this month, AEA Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad said that all progress had been made on land access, and she expected an agreement by the end of February. That came after Governor Parnell cited a lack of access as his reason for funding just $10 million of the $110 million AEA says it needs to complete the studies and other work needed to obtain a federal license for the dam. In his amended budget request, Governor Parnell is asking for an additional $32.7 million for the current fiscal year. According to the Governor’s office, that funding would be contingent on AEA securing access to the study sites.
After Governor Parnell originally proposed his budget for next fiscal year in December, some state lawmakers were hesitant to say whether more funds could be made available, since the budget already calls for substantial use of reserve funds. At a meeting of the House Finance Committee on Thursday, multiple members questioned the Governor’s decision.
Anchorage Republican Lindsey Holmes compared the move to a shell game, asking whether the money would actually be spent in 2014, or if it is actually for next fiscal year. Dillingham Democrat Bryce Edgmon says he shares Representative Holmes’ concerns, and asked why so much money was being allocated to a project which he said is still “only on the back of a napkin in many respects.”
AEA spokeswoman Emily Ford says that negotiations for land access are still on course, and the target for a final agreement is still the end of this month. If that timeline holds, it will be up to the Legislature to decide whether the $32.7 million dollars goes to the Susitna-Watana Project.