Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Federal Agencies Critique Susitna Hydropower Study

The National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service have identified a number of problems with data collection and analysis in an Alaska Energy Authority report for a proposed Southcentral Alaska hydropower project.

In letters addressed to Susitna-Watana project manager Wayne Dyok, both agencies voiced concerns with the initial AEA study report.

The Susitna-Watana hydropower project, according to the AEA’s calculations, would provide a little more than half of the electric power to communities along Alaska’s Railbelt, stabilizing energy prices for 100 years or more. Conservationists have raised many questions over possible adverse impacts of the dam on salmon habitat.

“The Alaska Energy Authority has spent nearly $200 million on studies that further a pro-dam agenda rather than gather information about how a mega dam would impact salmon,” said Mike Wood, president of the Susitna River Coalition in Southcentral Alaska. Wood said the letter from NMFS confirms the coalition’s concerns that “AEA cannot be trusted either to spend state dollars wisely or to protect the fourth largest king salmon river in the state.”

Dyok said he felt it would be more appropriate to discuss comments from the two agencies during an initial study report meeting set for Oct. 15-17 in Anchorage, and declined to comment specifically on the Sept. 22 letters from NMFS or USFWA.

NMFS identified 14 primary concerns with the current status and implementation of aquatic studies. Jim Balsiger, administrator of the Alaska Region for the National Marine Fisheries Service, told Dyok in his letter that unless issues related to aquatic studies are addressed, many study objectives will not be met.

Among those concerns are incomplete habitat classification, lack of development of fish passage criteria, fish sampling locations that did not incorporate Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommendations, and incorrect identification of fish.

The NMFS letter is online at Socheata Lor, Anchorage field supervisor for USFWS, said that agency has significant concern with data collection and reporting, effective model integration, and development of decision support systems.

“Because the data were gathered outside timelines specified by the FERC-ordered process, and given the limited review time the (US Fish and Wildlife) Service will have, we will be unable to consider and comment on those study reports in advance of the October 2014 initial study review meeting,” Lor told Dyok.

FN Online Advertising