Susitna Dam Funding Cut In Proposed Budget

Governor Parnell’s state budget totals $12.4 billion, and includes drawing $1.1 billion from reserves. Many capital projects saw significant cuts in the proposed budget, including the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.

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According to Emily Ford, spokeswoman for the Alaska Energy Authority, $110 million dollars is needed for AEA to complete the necessary prep work for a license to build the dam. Governor Parnell’s budget gives them $10 million. The FERC application is currently scheduled to take place in September of 2015, two months after the proposed budget ends. In an email statement, Emily Ford says that AEA will be prioritizing field activities and adjusting the licensing schedule as needed, but will continue moving forward.

At a press conference following the budget announcement, Governor Parnell gave his reason for cutting so deeply into Susitna-Watana’s budget.

“Their timeline for appropriations included having reached land access agreements with the landowners in the area. Those have not been reached, and I told AEA I wanted to see more significant progress on land access agreements before we committed a significant amount of money…”

Attending the press conference by telephone, I asked Governor Parnell what sort of communication he had received from AEA regarding both the impact of budget cuts and the progress of land access.

“I’ve been briefed on it throughout the fall, with respect to those issues. I understand negotiations are ongoing. I’ve also let them know that, again, before I can ask legislators for a significant amount of funding, I need to see significant progress on land access. There’s no sense in moving forward without that.”

It’s uncertain exactly what kind of impact the budget cuts will have on the schedule for research for the Susitna-Watana Project. Land access delayed a number of studies that were supposed to take place this year, and now the inability to access land owned by Alaska Native Corporations is hitting the project in the pocket book.

Requests for further comment from AEA following the Governor’s remarks did not receive a response in time for air.

Governor Parnell’s entire budget proposal can be found here.
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