Alaska News

Wood-Tikchik hydro project axed

Update (Monday, March 17): The Senate Resources Committee on Friday officially adopted a new version of House Bill 77 that eliminated the Chikuminuk Lake hydro project. According to the committee, requests for removing the project came from two places: from legislators representing the Bethel and Dillingham regions, and from Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who initially sought the project but agreed to change the bill when backers in the region changed their minds.

Original Story (Wednesday, March 12):

A proposed hydroelectric project in the official wilderness of Wood-Tikchik State Park in southwest Alaska has been spiked and the Alaska Legislature is shifting the money to other projects.

Three legislators from that area on Wednesday asked the chairwoman of the Senate Resources Committee to remove the authorization to study and operate a hydro project on Chikuminuk Lake from a bill filled with development, permitting and water rights issues.

The bill would have allowed motorized equipment and helicopter landings in the wilderness and branded hydroelectric production as a compatible use of Chikuminuk Lake.

Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative had hoped to string a 120-mile power line from the proposed dam to the Bethel region, which currently gets most of its power from expensive diesel generators. But the proposal generated heated controversy in the Dillingham region where the dam would be located.

Tim Grussendorf, a Finance Committee aide to Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said the remaining funds of the Legislature's original $10 million grant to Nuvista would be reappropriated to other energy projects in the Bethel area. More than half of the money is still left, he said.


Dillingham public radio station KDLG reported Tuesday that the Nuvista board decided in February to cancel the project and shift its focus to more "practical" energy projects.

In addition to the destruction of the wilderness around the lake, the project would have cost about $500 million.

Wood-Tikchik Park is about the size of Delaware and is the largest state park in the United States. The state selected its lands from the federal government in the 1960s to prevent creation of a national park there, according to an official history.

As designated wilderness, Chikuminuk Lake was supposed to be protected by park managers to promote and perpetuate the "character of the land and its specific values of solitude, physical and mental challenge, scientific study, inspiration and primitive recreational opportunities."

But Senate Bill 32, sponsored by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, would have ordered the state to rework Wood-Tikchik Park rules to allow the hydro project. Her bill was later incorporated into House Bill 77, the broad-reaching development measure now being debated in the Senate Resources Committee.

With the state funding for the project being redirected, Grussendorf said Hoffman, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, all signed the letter asking the provisions on Chikuminuk Lake be struck from House Bill 77. The letter was delivered Wednesday to Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, chairwoman of the Senate Resources Committee.

Reach Richard Mauer at or 257-4345.


Richard Mauer

Richard Mauer was a longtime reporter and editor for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.