Removing a major source of energy by dismantling the Eklutna Dam was the topic of both an open and a closed meeting of the Chugach Electric Association Board of Directors on Monday. The meeting had been abruptly called, poorly advertised, and the board went into executive session for at least a half an hour.
The board, which is the governing body for Anchorage’s electric coop, considered recent policy pronouncements by the Anchorage Assembly.
The Assembly majority, including the chairman of the Assembly Chris Constant, wants to remove the dam and restore salmon runs, but also wants to postpone the decision until there is a governor in place that might be more supportive of the idea. Although the Assembly has not stated that as their motive, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has the authority over the dam’s future, and the Anchorage Assembly is on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Eklutna provides a major amount of electricity used in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. It was constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation between 1951 and 1954 for less than $30 million and provides 177,438 megawatt hours energy, enough energy to power more than 24,600 residential homes for an entire year.
The project has proven durable and after the March 27, 1964 mega-earthquake, returned to partial operation within about 30 minutes.
Environmentalists want the dam removed because the river was once a minor salmon run. But even if the owners of the dam — Matanuska Electric Association, the Municipality of Anchorage, and Chugach Electric Association — removed the dam, it would only return the flow of the Eklutna River to what it was before the dam went up, and that means no fish, because there were no salmon swimming upstream before the dam went in. That’s because hydro projects downstream in prior years had already modified the river to the point where it was not a salmon run.
The Project was sold in 1991 to the Municipality of Anchorage, Chugach Electric Association, and Matanuska Electric Association. The municipality sold off its utility to Chugach and is now owner of 52% of it through the ML&P and Alaska Waste and Water Utility. When the sale of ML&P went through, the Municipality was supposed to designate a liaison for the Eklutna Dam, and didn’t. So the Muni is an owner but has no representation.
As part of the 1991 sale, the utilities entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to develop and propose to the governor a program to protect, mitigate damages to, and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by the development of the hydroelectric project. The governor appears to be under no obligation to agree with whatever the proposal might suggest. For this reason, the liberals on the Anchorage Assembly are working to get a delay, while they work on electing a Democrat governor in 2026.
Notes from the Chugach open meeting on Monday:
1. Chugach Electric Board’s legal counsel appears to disagree with the Anchorage Assembly on several issues.
2. Chugach Electric does want to establish year round flows and restore habitats.
3. Board Member Susanne Fleek-Green stated that all parties can agree to extend, as the Assembly has requested, because there is no specific rule that says all parties cannot agree to an extension.
4. The 1991 agreement with USFWS will likely be enforced in federal courts.
5. Technically, Anchorage Municipality has no representative to come to the table and vote and agree on all alternatives because it is no longer an owner.
6. CEA would like to make sure owners agree together.
7. There were 380 copy-and-pasted letters sent in favoring dam removal, with 275 of them from out of state.
8. The public may continue to provide comment on the proposal to remove the dam until Feb. 19 by writing [email protected].