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In a "last resort" effort to mitigate the impact of a proposed hydroelectric plant on 3,000 brook trout, developers of the Lake Dorothy project have agreed to pay the state $70,000 to restore aquatic habitat around Juneau.
The mitigation plan accepted by Lake Dorothy Hydroelectric Inc. moves the state's regulatory review of the $34-million power project nearer completion.
Once the project's developers satisfy the concerns of several state agencies, licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is virtually assured, according to Sandy Harbanuk, a project review coordinator for the Alaska Coastal Management Program. Construction could begin in three to fours years with power being generated by 2009 or 2010.
Harbanuk said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is poised to grant a 50-year license for the project. But since it is to be built within what's called the coastal zone, the coastal management program first must review state permits for consistency with its standards.
The program, recently moved from the governor's office to the state Department of Natural Resources, reviews development projects that occur within the coastal zone to make sure they are consistent with federal, state and local statutes and regulations.
"The FERC has already made its decision to license," Harbanuk said. "So what they're waiting for is for the state to issue a determination that the project is consistent with state coastal management standards. So when that lines up ... then FERC can issue its license, which is expected to happen in November."
The project, about 16 miles southeast of Juneau, would build a powerhouse where Dorothy Creek flows into Taku Inlet. Lake Dorothy Hydroelectric Inc. would tap Bart Lake and Lake Dorothy, using a penstock, or large pipe, to control the flow of water and carry it downstream to the powerhouse. LDHI also would build a 1.8-mile access road from the powerhouse to Bart Lake.
Corry Hildenbrand, president of Lake Dorothy Hydro, said the project would help provide stable energy rates and reduce Juneau's use of nonrenewable diesel fuels.
According to a final environmental assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it would cost approximately $3.8 million annually to build and operate the facility over a 30-year period. The cost of using diesel fuel in its place over the same period of time would be about $5.6 million annually.
The project would help meet future energy needs in Juneau as the population grows. It also could provide electricity to the Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island and the city of Hoonah on Chichagof Island if power lines were built to the two locations.
The project, however, would divert water from streams that are home to as many as 3,000 eastern brook trout, a species not native to Alaska. The trout were introduced to the area in 1931 from stock maintained in Yes Bay, about 50 miles north of Ketchikan, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report.
Lake Dorothy Hydro will compensate for the impacts to the trout by providing $70,000 to the state Department of Fish and Game to fund aquatic habitat restoration and sport fishing access projects around Juneau. The Federal Power Act gives federal and state fish and wildlife agencies authority to set conditions for use of the area.
Since impacts to the trout are unavoidable, Fish and Game chose to use the payment for projects enhancing recreational fishing in Juneau.
"Mitigation is sort of a last resort, and especially fee-type mitigation," Harbanuk said. "It's because they can't come up with something that makes up for the impacts."
But Christopher Estes, a Fish and Game fisheries scientist, said it is not uncommon for a project of this magnitude with multiple state and federal permits to result in some sort of financial mitigation.
Estes said he is not sure if project construction and the loss of water to the hydro plant would eliminate the fish population at Lake Dorothy. He also was uncertain about how much water would be diverted from streams inhabited by the trout.
He said the mitigation plan was developed by Lake Dorothy Hydro and the Habitat Division of Fish and Game. The settlement was reached prior to Habitat's move to the Department of Natural Resources on April 15, as ordered by Gov. Frank Mur-kowski.
Estes said the money could be used at the hydro project site or elsewhere in the Juneau area.
"The first priority is to try to work it out right where the impact is occurring," Estes said.
Rocky Holmes, Southeast regional supervisor for the state Division of Sport Fish, said in February the Habitat Division recommended that some of the $70,000 be used to enhance recreational fishing at Fish Creek on Douglas Island.
Holmes, however, was uncertain of the specifics of how the money would be used.
Project coordinator Harbanuk said a project of this magnitude requires permits from federal and state entities for water rights, moving fill, use of tidelands, building docks and using water and federal forest land.
The project must be found consistent with coastal management program before authorization may be issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Department of Natural Resources' Office of Habitat Management and Permitting and its Division of Mining, Land and Water; the Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service.
Lake Dorothy Hydro is a sister company to Alaska Electric Light and Power Co., which provides Juneau with its electricity. Both are owned by Juneau-based Alaska Energy Resources.
The plant would connect to power lines linking the state-owned Snettisham Hydroelectric facility, about 40 miles southeast of town, and the Juneau power grid.
The Lake Dorothy project would generate about 63 "firm" gigawatt hours of power to Juneau every year. The "firm" categorization specifies the amount of power that would be generated during the driest year on record.
Hydroelectric plants at Snettisham, Annex Creek, Salmon Creek and Gold Creek generate about 324 firm gigawatts a year. The Snettisham project provides Juneau with about 85 percent of its annual energy needs.
Comments concerning inconsistency with ACMP policies are due by 5 p.m. Friday. Harbanuk said the review will be complete at the beginning of October.
"This is kind of the final process," said Hildenbrand of Lake Dorothy Hydro.
Once the review is complete, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide within two to three weeks whether to issue a license order for construction of the project, Hildenbrand said.
LDHI then will enter into the final engineering stage, which will include geotechnical investigations.
Hildenbrand said it could take up to two years to complete this phase of the project.
"We'd like to see (construction begin) in three years, but it may be four," Hildenbrand said. "It could be sooner too."
He said construction is expected to last about three years, putting the plant online sometime in 2009 or 2010.
Comments concerning inconsistency with ACMP policy can be sent to:
Sandy Harbanuk, Alaska Coastal Management Program, OPMP, 302 Gold St., Suite 202, Juneau, AK 99801 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.