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Susitna dam is an expensive mistake in the making

  • Author: Eric Booten
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published July 2, 2014

After attending the Alaska Energy Authority's (AEA) presentation on the Susitna dam project on June 4, it is abundantly clear that the state is wasting time and money on the Susitna Watana Dam Project while drowning out the voice of Alaskan residents.

Billed as "open houses" and community meetings, it was clear that AEA's real goal of this event was to show off slick promotional posters and simulations--not to hear what the community had to say about this egregious and expensive project. If the agency expected Alaskans to be wowed by these high-dollar materials and buy into the Susitna dam, they couldn't have been more wrong. The tone in the room was clear: Alaskans are angry and eager to speak out against this project.

While AEA's project manager tried to cut the comment period short, we had plenty to say on June 4, and we have plenty to say now. Alaskans cannot stand by and watch AEA spend billions of our state dollars on yet another mega project that we can't afford.

Since 2011, the AEA has spent hundreds of millions on studies, and apparently multimedia simulations and propaganda. Worse yet is the fact that Alaskans haven't been given a genuine opportunity to voice our opinion on a project that will cost us more than $5 billion.

We all need energy to power our homes and businesses, but the Susitna Dam project is too expensive and will stall out other energy projects that are less risky, more effective, and can come online sooner.

Megadams are a relic of the past, not a viable energy source of the future. This project failed in the 80's, and it will fail again, because it is simply bad for Alaska. This proposed 735-foot dam would drown out 24,000 acres of prime hunting grounds, and threaten one of Alaska's most prized natural resources--wild salmon.

As an avid angler, I do not want to see a place Alaskans go to fish and hunt submerged under water. Wasting money on an outdated energy project that threatens the rich natural resources we have built our community around would be a monumental and irreversible mistake.

We just have to look south to see what lies ahead if we allow the Susitna dam to be built. Nearly every river in the Lower 48 has been dammed. As a result, nearly every wild salmon stream in the Lower 48 is listed under the Endangered Species Act and Alaska now supports the vast majority of the Pacific Coast fishery.

Unfortunately, not a single effort to recover a dammed salmon stream has resulted in a de-listing from the Endangered Species Act. In fact, public utilities and community groups now take down dams at a rapid pace in an attempt to restore what they have lost.

Here in Alaska we have the opportunity to learn from mistakes made in the Lower 48; this means saying no to a project that we know will destroy valuable hunting and fishing habitat.

Instead of spending millions upon millions of dollars studying the Susitna Dam Project and making flashy presentations, the AEA and State of Alaska should take a moment to listen to those of us who live, hunt and fish here. If they did, they would find that Alaskans overwhelmingly oppose this wasteful project. It's time to start looking for more sensible energy alternatives.

Eric Booton is an avid fisherman and outdoorsman who lives in Anchorage. He enjoys salmon and trout fishing in the Susitna Valley every summer.