Firm with dark past in Alaska vows fix for Southeast energy woes

U.S. Forest Service photo

The name of the company pushing hard to build the proposed $180 million Cascade Creek Hydroelectric Project near Petersburg might not trigger Alaskans' memories. But B.C.-based Alaska Hydro Corp.'s president, Thom Fischer, is also owner of the Whitewater Engineering construction company involved in a controversial corporate pardon in the final days of the Murkowski administration. Fischer recently told the Juneau Empire the 2006 pardon and criminal charges following the 2002 death of a Whitewater employee are "yesterday's news."

From the Empire:

In 2002, Bellingham, Wash., construction company Whitewater Engineering was working on another hydroelectric project, for Cordova, when it sent equipment operator Gary Stone to work in an known avalanche chute. An avalanche killed him, and Stone left behind a wife and two children.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration called the company's actions "criminally negligent." State prosecutors agreed, and both Whitewater and owner Thom Fischer were indicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide.

Fischer disputed the charges, blaming Stone and government regulations for the death. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to the charges on behalf of Whitewater in exchange for the charge against him personally being dismissed.

Lawmakers outraged by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski's pardon of the company passed new legislation, signed by Gov. Sarah Palin, limiting the governor's clemency powers.

Fischer ... said his company never should have been prosecuted for an accident. "People who really understand what happened believe he did the right thing, that Murkowski did the right thing," Fischer said.

Petersburg power official Joe Nelson told the Empire there is opposition to the Cascade Creek plan for another reason:

Fischer said the goal of the Cascade Creek Project is to connect into the electrical intertie between Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan at Petersburg. Nelson said the city doesn't need the power, doesn't have a means of connection, and the intertie isn't able to ship that much power.

Fischer said he initially plans to sell half the power locally, and eventually all of it locally.

"I don't know who they are going to sell it to," Nelson responded.

Read more about Alaska Hydro at the Juneau Empire, and hear more about the Cascade Creek plan in a KCAW audio report.