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
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 http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20140923-5026 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.