AEL&P plans heliport, bunkhouse near Thane

Juneau Planning Commission approves permits for $54 million hydroelectric project

Posted: Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Juneau Planning Commission approved on Tuesday night a proposal to build a heliport, 10-bed bunkhouse and a storage area on Thane Road for a Lake Dorothy hydroelectric project support site.

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Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. asked for three conditional-use permits for the facility, to be used during the construction of a $54 million hydroelectric project at Lake Dorothy, nearly 16 miles southeast of the support site near Sheep Creek.

City planner Peter Freer said AEL&P has been using the Thane site to mobilize construction since June, before the city's authorization. He said the company applied for permits shortly after use of the site came to the city's attention. Freer recommended the permits be granted, adding that the area is zoned for such use.

Murray Walsh, a consultant for AEL&P, said the area has been traditionally used by the company as a staging area for other significant construction projects over the years.

"From a legal standpoint, I think everything they have done there is grandfathered in," he said.

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AEL&P applied for the permits to allow the proper public process to take place, Walsh said.

"We started out with the right attitude in the right place," he said.

The support site is vital to the completion and success of the hydroelectric project, according to Walsh.

Paula Terrell, vice president of the Thane Neighborhood Association, testified on behalf of the association, offering support of the three permits. She said a majority of the association members are supportive of the project because AEL&P has been a good neighbor.

"What we're talking about for us is a temporary construction project for probably two seasons," Terrell said. "In that time there will be some noise, there will be some road traffic, but I think AEL&P has done an exemplary job."

Construction of the Lake Dorothy hydroelectric project began in May 2006 and is continuing this season, AEL&P spokesperson Gayle Wood said.

"We expect we'll be producing kilowatt hours by the end of 2008 with more construction needed in spring of 2009 to actually complete the project," she said.

The project will result in a nearly 20 percent increase in capacity for the company when it is complete, Wood said. The company presently has an average capacity of 350 million kilowatt hours, she said, adding that the Lake Dorothy project will result in 75 million additional kilowatt-hours.

"It's a huge project for the city of Juneau and providing a future for hydro-based energy," Wood said.

The project is the community's largest privately funded energy projects in decades, Walsh said.

The energy produced from the Dorothy Lake project will primarily be used by Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island in the early years of operation, Wood said. Diesel generators presently provide the mine with its electricity, she said.

As the community grows, the city will used the energy produced from Dorothy Lake and the mine will likely transfer back to diesel power, Wood said.

"At this point, the customers in Juneau have priority for that resource," she said.

Discussions are also underway for rerouting some of the energy to Hoonah, Wood said. Funding is still uncertain and the company is working on engineering and permitting aspects for that project, she said.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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