OPINION: Power companies and state government should keep their Eklutna River promise

Robert Service helped set the tone for moral behavior in the Arctic when he wrote, “A promise made is a debt unpaid in the land of the midnight sun.” In 1990, when Matanuska Electric, Chugach Electric and the City of Anchorage purchased the Eklutna project for a pittance of its value, they made a promise to the people of Alaska to mitigate (that is, restore) the dam’s effect on the Eklutna watershed’s fish and wildlife. This is known as the 1991 agreement.

Basically, in a hurry to turn over management of the Snettisham and Eklutna hydro projects to Alaska, they bypassed the normal requirements imposed by the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider fish and wildlife effects and kicked the can down the road for 35 years.

Last week, I attended five of the six public presentations made by McMillen, an Idaho firm whom the three Eklutna Project owners hired to analyze options for meeting the requirements of the 1991 agreement. I admire the utilities for tightly managing the narrative at the presentations. There was no time given for audience participation and questions instead, a carefully constructed presence by individuals who helped to provide data to McMillen for their proposal to release water from the Anchorage Water and Wastewater portal down 11 miles of the Eklutna River, which would not connect sockeye to the lake nor permit fish to access miles of habitat above the lake.

The facts presented by McMillen were accurate, although misleading. For instance, a reference to the percentage of power produced by the Eklutna dam was given as a percentage of the owner’s renewable energy portfolio, not a percentage of the production capacity (~40% vs ~3%).

McMillen showed the preferred proposals by the fisheries experts they were required to consult in the 1991 agreement. U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Alaska Department of Fish and Game provided them with thoughtful, well-researched proposals and options. All were ignored.

As the tribal administration for the Native Village of Eklutna, I was asked if outside organizations were using the Native Village of Eklutna to further their objectives. I told them, “No.” The Native Village of Eklutna has waited patiently for the promise and the process to mitigate the damage done to the fish and wildlife in their home territory. We are grateful for the assistance of others who also want to see more salmon returned to our rivers, lakes, ocean, and ultimately to our dinner table. They have even offered to pay for taking down the dam at no cost to Southcentral ratepayers — instead, giving the utilities 10 years to pursue other renewable energy sources to replace that ~3%.

I am indeed grateful for the ordinance passed by the Anchorage Assembly (the municipality of Anchorage is the majority owner of the Eklutna Project), stating its desire for full restoration of the river, not a portion. Its members understand the promise made. The fact that this ordinance was passed seemed to be a surprise to the McMillen contractor in its last presentation. I sincerely hope they give it more weight in their proposal revision.


The Native Village of Eklutna does not have the deep pockets that the utilities possess. We can’t afford to hire fancy public relations folks or put on and publicize our own “public presentations.” We are praying that being on the morally right side of the issue will bear fruit.

The owners will update their proposal and present it to the governor in April. Gov. Mike Dunleavy will have an opportunity to accept, reject or alter the proposal and the public will have another chance to comment before it becomes a final decision in October.

There is still more time for members of the public to weigh in and let Gov. Dunleavy know that they want him to revitalize salmon in the Upper Cook Inlet — Alaskans can make written comments at eklutnahydro.com. This is the governor’s chance to have a legacy project and fulfill a campaign promise — returning a productive salmon stream so his children and grandchildren — indeed, all Alaskans — can fish too.

Brenda Hewitt is the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Eklutna. The comments here are her own.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.