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Keeep money in state budget for Blue Lake hydro project expansion

Posted: May 25, 2011 - 9:17pm

As the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Sean Parnell work out their differences over the capital budget, we at Sitka Conservation Society strongly urge them to retain the pending $28.5 million for expanding Sitka’s Blue Lake hydroelectric project.

We have been working closely with the City of Sitka to promote this fish-friendly way of expanding our community’s supply of clean, renewable energy. Sitka is close to maxing out on our existing hydroelectric power sources. During the past winter and again this spring, Sitka’s utility has been forced to use expensive diesel fuel for back-up power.

Of course, Sitka households must carry the added financial burden, which will only increase until our community has an increased hydro power capacity.

The city of Sitka is willing to contribute to the cost by selling utility bonds. But hydro projects have high up-front costs. This makes such projects difficult to finance with only private money, even though they pay decades worth of dividends to the community and the environment by supplying clean energy with no fuel costs.

Unlike many hydro projects in the Pacific Northwest, Blue Lake will not disturb salmon runs. It merely expands an existing dam and lake, high above any spawning areas.

Salmon are the most valuable product coming off the Tongass National Forest nowdays. Tongass watersheds produce almost 30 percent of all salmon in Alaska, so the Tongass really could be called a “salmon forest.” As a community conservation group, we would never support a project that jeopardizes this extremely valuable and sustainable industry.

The Blue Lake project has broad support in Sitka. It’s a good example of how we can use the resources of the Tongass National Forest to nurture healthy communities, create economic opportunities, take action on climate change, and encourage a new way of doing business in the region.

Richard K. Nelson

Sitka Conservation Society

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