Hydro project on Snow River prompts concerns from area residents

 map from Chugach Electric Association website
map from Chugach Electric Association website (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 17, 2017 at 12:29 PM AKDT
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A proposed hydroelectric project on the Snow River on the Kenai Peninsula, that would include three dams, was the subject of public meetings Monday.

Chugach Electric Association was granted a preliminary permit by the Federal Energy Regulator Commission on March 22 to study the feasibility of the project, which FERC says would use 15,957 acres of land owned by the U.S. Forest Service north of the city of Seward.

On its website, Chugach Electric wrote, "This application to FERC is an initial step in a project that could take up to 10 years to complete. Chugach is exploring the options at Snow River as the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a stable, sustainable power supply for many generations of Alaskans."

Phil Steyer, the director of governmental affairs for the utility, said, "We are heavily dependent on a single generation fuel, natural gas, and we have an interest in having a more balanced portfolio relying less on natural gas and trying to add other renewables into that mix."

FERC, in its order granting the study permit, wrote that the proposed project would include three dam structures; one on the river and two secondary structures to help contain the reservoir the project would create:

- A 770-foot-long, 300-foot-high concrete-faced rockfill or roller compacted concrete gravity dam.

- A 300-foot-long, 60-foot-high concrete-face rockfill or roller compacted concrete gravity auxiliary dam on the right bank.

-A 500-foot-long, 80-foot-high concrete rockfill or roller compacted gravity auxiliary dam on the left bank.

- A 5,321-acre reservoir.

David Lisi, a fishing guide with a group called Peninsula Rivers Conservancy, is among the people opposing the proposed project.

Lisi said, "the entire river system from the concrete dam up would be completely engulfed by a reservoir and would actually inundate Lower Paradise Lake and an entire valley would be full of water. Not to mention from the same site down to where the water comes out of their penstock where they produce power would be de-watered, it would be essentially dry from the dam site to where the water returns, roughly in my estimation about two miles."

A public information meeting was held at the Lake Front Hotel in Anchorage Monday night that included a 20 minute presentation. Attendance exceeded capacity for the room.

The public expressed a range of concerns about the proposed project during a question and answer session. Moose Pass resident Bruce Jaffa said the utility already has a problem with public perception of the project. “What I’ve seen is a tremendous opposition grow almost instantly without knowing the real project, without knowing the project or where the project is going to wind up,” Jaffa said.

Other concerns included impacts to salmon spawning grounds, hunting, mining and recreating in the area.

“You know it’s really alarming to us that Chugach Electric would be putting this project forward. It’s one of the biggest most important tributaries of the upper Kenai River which is beloved by so many people and it’s just truly alarming that they would consider building a dam of this size at this location,” said Austin Williams with Trout Unlimited.

A second informational meeting is scheduled for April 18th at the Moose Pass Community Hall at milepost 29.5 of the Seward Highway at 7 p.m.