Eaglecrest to benefit from FAA power plan

New road slated to service electric lines to station

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007

Summer hikers, berry pickers and cyclists soon will no longer have to bushwhack on dangerous hillsides to reach alpine play land.

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A road will be built the next two summers to service power lines and a Federal Aviation Administration station at the top of Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Ski area manager Kirk Duncan said that road is the real the benefit of the project.

"Ski operations are doing fine without power," Duncan said.

On Monday, the Juneau Assembly will introduce an ordinance for later approval that contains, among other things, $1.4 million in state funds to run power lines from Douglas Highway to the weather station above the Eagle's Nest warming hut at 2,300 feet.

Duncan said the ski area would be foolish to not take advantage of power lines running past their diesel-powered operation. The lifts will switch from diesel to electricity sometime in the next two summers, he said.

Electrification is not a pork project to power the ski area, Duncan said, but rather to power the weather station with reliable and consistent power.

"Without the tower we wouldn't be doing this," he said.

Under certain weather conditions, planes cannot take off or land in Juneau without information from the station. Currently the FAA site is connected to generators by worn temporary lines that are patched together, Duncan said.

During the past session, the Alaska Legislature approved $2.8 million in economic development funds for the project before Gov. Sara Palin cut the appropriation in half.

Although the city has only half of the funding required, the current appropriation is enough to get construction off to a good start, Assembly member Merrill Sanford said.

Duncan said the $1.4 million would get power to the day lodge next summer and that the city would seek the rest of the money to finish the project in the summer of 2009.

"It's getting to be a high priority project," Sanford said.

When the electrification process is complete, one additional benefit is that all ski lifts, including two new lifts slated for construction next summer, will operate on electricity.

While the skier and snowboarder's aesthetic experience will improve without the generator noise and exhaust, Duncan said the actual cost savings to the ski operation are minimal.

About $30,000 of the $80,000 annual fuel budget is dumped into the generators. The rest heats buildings and powers grooming machines, he said.

Long-term savings may come from not rebuilding, replacing or servicing the main generator and the building housing it, Duncan said.

The access road will reach mid-mountain next summer. He said in 2009 the road will reach the summit.

Work on the road is in addition to the new lifts, new buildings and work on the Nordic ski area.

"Eaglecrest has not seen this kind of development since original construction," Duncan said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.

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