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AK Beat: Land-use deal should boost Alaska's Susitna-Watana dam project

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
A field crew works in the area downstream from the proposed Susitna Watana dam project over the summer when various studies were conducted. Courtesy Alaska Energy Authority

Land-use deal should boost Susitna-Watana dam project: The agency behind a Southcentral megaproject has struck a land-use deal with six Cook Inlet village corporations and Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI). Securing the deal was seen as a major hurdle for Alaska Energy Authority and the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, which, if built, would be the second tallest dam in the nation. The “complex land-use permit” agreement is reportedly the result of months of negotiations among AEA and the landholders. The permit is expected to protect landowners while allowing AEA to conduct environmental assessments, according to an AEA press release, though the agency has said in prior press releases that the 2013 summer field studies went off without a hitch. As part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, various village corporations own the surface rights to some of the lands within the project area; CIRI owns the sub-surface rights. The dam, called Susitna-Watana Hydro, would be located at river mile 184 of the Susitna River. According to the agency, it would provide approximately half of the Railbelt’s electrical demand for at least 100 years. Despite the land deal, AEA may have larger problems. The project is estimated to cost around $5 billion, and Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell cut proposed spending on the dam by $114 million for the next fiscal year.

Taylor Highway open to traffic: Alaska Department of Transportation crews started clearing snow and ice from Taylor Highway in late March, and not it's finally open to travel. The road, which travels from Tetlin Junction, near the community of Tok, up to the remote town of Eagle some 160 miles away, is now open, though DOT urged drivers to use extreme caution when traveling the road. Expect ice and water on the road between miles 64 and 160. The Boundary Spur, also known as the Top of the World Highway, remains closed until the U.S./Canadian Customs opens in mid-May. 

Study: Americans overwhelmingly think alcohol’s more dangerous than pot: According to a survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released on Thursday Americans, by a 5-to-1 margin, agree that alcohol is more dangerous to your health than marijuana. Hispanics, the elderly and Republicans do think it is more harmful that other races, age demographics and political parties, but still a majority of all of them call booze more dangerous. The study was conducted from Feb. 14 to 23 of this year. The survey also states that most Americans think the government should rely more on treatment for drug users than incarceration. Alaska voters will decide on a measure to legalize recreational marijuana this August. Polls in the state show a slight majority support the measure.

Homer man dies from crash injuries: According to Alaska State Troopers, a Homer man who was injured in a Sterling Highway auto crash a month ago has died from the injuries he sustained. Troopers said 51-year-old Mark Shufelt, of Homer, died Thursday afternoon, a mont to the day after he was involved in a collision near mile 155 of the Sterling Hughway, near Anchor Point. Shufelt had been driving a Toyota Tacoma when it collided with a Ford Taurus, sending both vehicles off the road and rolling multiple times. Shufelt, who was not wearing a seat belt was ejected from the truck. The two occupants of the Taurus, who were wearing seat belts, sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Troopers say investigation into the crash continues.

Fat bikes go global at Taiwan bike show: Born in Alaska, refined along the Iditarod Trail, the fat-tired bike -- most commonly referred to now as simply a fat bike -- has gone global. Bikerumor.com was at the Taipei bike show this week and reported that "chances were pretty high that there was a fat bike somewhere in (every) booth." Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, and Taiwan is the Detroit of bicycle manufacturing or, more appropriately, it is what Detroit was in the 1950s and 1960s when the U.S. pretty much owned the worldwide auto business. If you're riding a high-end bike today, chances are the frame was manufactured in Taiwan. This year's show, the website reported, is "an indication that fat biking is just now hitting the industry in a big way, and everyone seems to be taking notice." Fat bike builder and pioneer Greg Matyas of Anchorage long pushed the idea that fat bikes weren't just for snow, and the wide-tired monsters are now popping up on soft, formerly unridable surfaces -- beaches, desert sands, dunes, etc. -- around the world. Whether this will prove good for the sales of Matyas's Fatbacks or the "907" fat bikes of Anchorage competitor Chain Reaction Cycles remains to be seen. The two companies were formerly in competition mainly with Surly, a Minnesota outfit that sells the locally well-known "Pugsley" and other bikes manufactured, predictably, in Taiwan. Now, the two Alaska companies are in competition with the world. Only time will tell if this tides lifts all boats or drowns some of the boaters.