The Anchorage Assembly wants to pause and reset the years-long process that will determine how the water in Eklutna Lake is managed for the next 35 years.
Right now, the lake provides about 90% of Anchorage’s drinking water, and it provides cheap, reliable electricity for about 25,000 Anchorage and Mat-Su homes through Chugach Electric Association and Matanuska Electric Association.
Assembly members say they have fundamental problems with the utilities’ plan, the process that produced it and the property tax impacts.
Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel said they’re asking the parties involved to take a deeper look at more options.
“We think that the issues here are just too significant to rush through or push something through so something can be transmitted to the governor by April,” she said.
The process playing out now was mandated in a deal struck in the 1990s, when the hydropower project changed hands from federal ownership to local utilities.
The original parties were the municipality, Chugach Electric, Matanuska Electric, the Alaska Energy Authority, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the governor of Alaska.
Part of the deal was to eventually study the impacts the decades old hydropower project has had on fish and wildlife, and then to develop and implement plans to protect and enhance the affected critters.
Various “eventually” deadlines are now approaching, including a public comment period that closes Feb. 19 on the utilities’ preferred plan.
For many Anchorage Assembly members the plan is an opportunity to restore what the Native Village of Eklutna lost when its river was dammed back in the 1920s — most of the river went dry and so did the once abundant salmon runs.
Assembly member Kevin Cross frames it as righting a wrong of government overreach.
“If you’re a small, limited government human being like I am, then you should be very concerned and angry about what we did to Native Village of Eklutna – just, honestly,” he said. “Now, we’ve been very blessed and we’ve benefited from it ever since. Anchorage has benefitted wildly from the wrongs we have created. It’s not a justification for why we can’t move forward.”
The utilities want to keep the dam and build $57 million of new infrastructure to divert about 10% of the lake’s water down the Eklutna River – but fish wouldn’t be able to reach the lake.
The village and its allies, which includes the Anchorage Assembly, are advocating for the complete removal of the dam to restore its namesake river.
Mayor Dave Bronson doesn’t support full restoration of the Eklutna River. Through a spokesperson, he said he wants to protect the city’s drinking water and the renewable energy the dam makes possible amid an energy crisis in Cook Inlet, though he won’t veto the Assembly’s resolution.
The governor has the final say on the Eklutna Lake plan. If the signatories don’t agree to the Assembly’s request for a two-year extension, his deadline to decide is in October.