Despite changes to the proposed design of Homer Electric Association’s Grant Lake hydroelectric project, the project still drew mixed reactions after a Nov. 6 presentation in Moose Pass.
The meeting was attended by HEA managers, research and design consultants working on the project, representatives from invited government agencies and Moose Pass residents. The presenters spoke for approximately an hour and a half, and a comment session followed. HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher said the meeting included 23 members of the public, who came from Moose Pass, Seward, Anchorage, Kenai, and Cooper Landing.
“The presentation provided a summary of the extensive natural resource, engineering and licensing studies and analyses that have been undertaken the past two and a half years,” wrote Mike Salzetti, HEA’s Manager of Fuel Supply & Renewable Energy Development, in an email. “Special emphasis was placed on the documentation of study results and associated positive and negative impacts to the project area.”
Grant Lake sits above Moose Pass in the Kenai Mountain range and releases its water into nearby Trail Lake through the steep and swift-flowing Grant Creek. HEA’s current plans call for water to be diverted from Grant Lake through a powerhouse, where it would generate five megawatts of electricity when running at full capacity, before being released halfway down Grant Creek’s mile-long course. The portion of Grant Creek upstream of the powerhouse would have a diminished water level as a result of the diversion.
Salzetti said that HEA has been studying the impact of the proposed project since it began planning in 2009.
As a result of simulations conducted by its engineers, current plans no longer include a dam at the mouth of Grant Creek, but rather a tower-like structure rooted in the lake bottom, known as a lake cap, through which water would enter the diversion tunnel. HEA plans to submit a draft license application for its current dam-less design to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the national power plant licensing agency, in February 2015.
HEA held a previous meeting in Moose Pass in 2010, when it was beginning to plan the studies it would conduct in preparation for an application for its FERC license. At that meeting, HEA officials solicited input on what studies should be done to accurately assess the positive and negative effects of the project. Some attendees expressed strong concerns over whether or not the project’s potential environmental impact was justified by the benefit it might offer.
One such attendee was Michael Cooney, a forestry consultant in Moose Pass who attended both the 2010 and 2014 meetings. He spoke against the project in 2010, eventually submitting letters of opposition to the HEA Board of Directors, the commission, and the Alaska Energy and Electrical Cooperative.
“HEA’s redesign of the project to eliminate the dam and retain just the lake tap has lessened the scale of environmental impacts to the lakeshore and uplands, but has done nothing to mitigate the effects of the project on downstream resources, particularly fish and aquatic organisms,” Cooney wrote in an email. “There are still impacts associated with varying the lake’s natural levels and almost totally dewatering the upper half of Grant Creek.”
After seeing the results of HEA’s most recent research, Cooney believes that the Grant Lake project’s impact on fish remains insufficiently studied.
“Since 2009, I have asked that fisheries studies determine the annual production of juvenile salmon (particularly sockeye) from Grant Creek as a way of gauging and documenting the Creek’s contribution to the Kenai River watershed which supports substantial commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries — studies to date have not even attempted to address this question, and consultants at the most recent meeting were unable to answer the question,” Cooney said.
After a two-year lull in his efforts to stop the project, Cooney said he would resume his attempts to get it shut down.
Jeff Hetrick, co-owner of the Inn at Tern Lake, a hotel approximately 12 miles outside of Moose Pass, said that he has attended all of HEA’s public meetings.
“I learn more at each meeting,” Hetrick wrote in an email. “HEA did a good job of presenting their work.”
“I’m generally in favor of the project,” Hetrick said, “but I have some reservations and fish isn’t one of them. My concern is the viewscape of transmission lines and how and who will manage the newly created access to Grant Lake.”
Construction and maintenance of the Grant Lake project will require a road to access the site from Seward Highway. HEA has not yet decided whether to allow public access to this road.
“I think the meeting went well, however some of the audience didn’t understand that it was supposed to informational not public testimony,” Hetrick said of the Nov. 6 meeting. “I plan on reviewing the (draft) application when released and will likely have a bunch of questions. I believe HEA’s biggest obstacle to garner community support is going to be (the issue of) how does Moose Pass benefit from the project. They will need to figure some mitigation for the community.”
Sue McClure represents Seward and Moose Pass in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. She was also on the assembly in 2010 during HEA’s previous Moose Pass presentation, after which McClure and former borough mayor Dave Carey called for the assembly to formally oppose HEA’s development of Grant Lake. The proposal was voted down 6-2.
McClure didn’t personally attend the November 6 meeting, but sent a representative.
“It sounds quite like it was back in (2010),” McClure said. “About the same number of people in attendance, about the same amount of presentation, and just about the same negative sentiment. I don’t think anything’s changed because of their scaling down the project, in terms of the protests about it.”
“I’m not going to do any kind of resolution or anything,” McClure said. “I don’t think that would be productive.”
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.