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Assembly withholds judgement on HEA's hydro project

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some Kenai Peninsula residents wanted the borough assembly to send a firm message against Homer Electric Association's Grant Creek hydroelectric project. But, on Tuesday night, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly decided it was too soon for such finality on the issue.

Opponents of the Grant Creek project say the structures accompanying any hydroelectric facility would negatively impact local fisheries. Supporters question the project's impact on fisheries and advocate for more renewable energy options.

HEA says the project, which would be located just south of Moose Pass, would diversify HEA's energy generation. A dam would be built at Grant Creek's outlet, and a pipeline would carry water to a powerhouse at the bank of Grant Creek. Hydropower is a way to use the energy generated from moving water.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted HEA's Kenai Hydro, LLC a preliminary permit for the project in 2008. That permit allowed HEA to move forward with studying the site for its potential hydroelectric capabilities. Kenai Hydro will not submit a draft of its license application until May of 2011, and it won't submit a final license application until September of 2011.

The resolution discussed Tuesday night, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sue McClure, Seward, and Borough Mayor Dave Carey, would have authorized the mayor to send a letter of opposition to the regulatory commission.

The majority of the assembly believed the resolution was premature. The body voted it down, 6-2.

Assemblyman Gary Superman, Nikiski, said it is "absolutely irresponsible for us to be taking a stance at this time.

"I take issue with us even dealing with this at this point because it is that premature in my mind," Superman said. "What are we saying about our regulatory process if we don't even let some of these projects get out of the chute so we can determine what some of the impacts are?"

Assemblyman Gary Knopp, Kalifornsky, echoed Superman's words.

"What you're asking us to oppose is pie in the sky. It's not even there," Knopp said.

However, some assembly members and Mayor Carey were in favor of coming out against the project last night.

Several members of the public also testified in favor of Tuesday night's anti-project resolution. About 40 individuals sent letters in support of the resolution to the assembly members and the administration.

McClure said she wanted to support her constituents.

"I don't see this as an attempt to thwart the process but more to support the people of Moose Pass and their opposition," McClure said.

Carey also advocated for the residents.

"The government process wants to say that it listens to the people, but government bureaucracy often eats up people," Carey said.

Mako Haggerty, South Peninsula, said he doesn't want to risk the area's fisheries.

"We go through boom and bust cycles here in Alaska. We're in a down cycle with oil. Salmon, though, has always been sustainable," Haggerty said.

HEA was pleased with the assembly's decision, according to company spokesman Joe Gallagher.

"We believe the assembly took the proper action. There is a procedure in place that FERC (the regulatory commission) has laid out and a stringent process that will require studies and will require HEA to gather information over the next year," Gallagher said. "For the assembly to come out in opposition prior to that did not make sense."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com



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