Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Chris Spens, Environmental Manager for Cascade Creek LLC whose headquarters are in Bellingham, Washington thought the project made sense.

The city of Bellingham decided it wanted to purchase only green power. The Swan Lake project would offset a whale of a lot of diesel fuel every year. Sounds pretty cool.

Well, not to the slightly more than 3,000 residents of Petersburg, Alaska (pictured here) where the green power would originate in a to be built hydroelectric plant at a pristine lake near town. Unfortunately, no one thought to ask them what they thought about the whole idea.

Keep in mind, as you continue reading, there is no local need for the additional power in their area.

The Petersburg Pilot reports local residents are having a difficult time finding any benefits for residents of Petersburg, who often use the Thomas Bay area for recreation and sustenance activities. Several local businesses also use the scenic spot to attract tourists during summer months.

Writes the Pilot:

"Concerns have also mounted over the negative effects that could stem from developing Thomas Bay. Several members of Alaska Department of Fish and Game have stated their concerns over the detrimental effect the projects could have on the area’s fish and wildlife populations."

“It is possible that there may be profound impacts on well-established shellfish fisheries in Thomas Bay and Fredrick Sound,” Theresa Stolpe, a Fish and Wildlife Technician recently told local residents. She mentioned a study performed in the mid-80s that noted the increased amount of fresh water entering Thomas Bay from hydro facilities could impact larval and juvenile crab and shrimp. Doug Fleming, Sport Fish Area Biologist, raised concerns over the water levels being reduced in areas surrounding the projects. Reduced levels of water, according to Fleming, could mean that trout and salmon populations would dwindle due to a change in their spawning areas.

Some area residents have expressed fear of the use of eminent domain to seize their properties.

There are also concerns with the company which is developing the project. At a local meeting much time was taken up with just trying to figure out who in the hell they were. Again from the Pilot:

Although the company holds pre-application licensing for the Thomas Bay area, Thom Fischer, the company’s director, introduced a member of Kake Tribal Corporation and mentioned that they were interested in purchasing the project. Concerns were raised over the fact that Cascade Creek is a sister company to Whitewater Engineering, a company that was pardoned by former Alaska State Governor Murkowski after being charged with criminally negligent homicide for the death of a worker. “I guess ethics don’t play any role in this process,” said one audience member, “but I don’t understand how your company can come back to Alaska and do business.”

Maybe some of these issues can be worked out, maybe not. But the kicker remains that until a couple of weeks ago no one even bothered with talking to residents of the area.. Isn't that too often the case when dealing with government or big corporations. They just look out for themselves, residents be damned.

That kind of attitude is especially not appreciated in the state of Alaska where citizens expect to have control over their lives and their property.

Martha Smith addressed a recent council meeting which took up the issue. She stated that she would like the city to respond to the proposed projects. “Lots of questions and concerns were raised,” she informed the council, “and we were responded to with evasion, incomplete and incorrect information, as well as disdain for our perspectives. It was, however, made clear that Cascade Creek, LLC has big plans for big profits.”

"Big Plans for Big Profits" would make a good replacement for "In God We Trust."

The following is from the Bellingham Herald (Washington).

Power project creates uproar
County Council hearing from town in Alaska

Residents of Petersburg, Alaska, are hammering local officials’ e-mail inboxes about a proposed hydroelectric power project in their mostly pristine area.

They’re not happy, and neither are some Whatcom County Council members.

Petersburg locals want to stop Whatcom County and a private company from looking into the potential of harnessing the power of a high-elevation lake 15 miles north of their city.

County Executive Pete Kremen and his staff asked the federal government for permission to explore the project, which may have the potential to transport power south to Whatcom County.

“This proposed project has caused uproar in our town of 3,000 individuals,” Petersburg resident Becky Knight wrote to Whatcom County Council members in an email.

Knight, whose children attend Western Washington University, said in a phone interview there is near-consensus in the small town — referred to as “Alaska’s Little Norway” on the city’s Web site — that the project should be killed.

The Swan Lake project is one of three various projects in the proposed Thomas Bay Energy Development being sought by Cascade Creek LLC, a subsidiary of Whatcom County-based Tollhouse Energy, which is owned by Thom Fischer. Whatcom County is only involved in the Swan Lake proposal.

A hole would be drilled in the lake bed and water sent down a pipe into a powerhouse from the high-elevation lake. The pressure is so great, Fischer previously said, that the amount of energy produced is equivalent to one turbine on a dam like the Snake River, which generally has more like six turbines on it, but with far less water flowing through.

The amount of energy produced would offset about 15 million gallons of diesel fuel per year, Fischer said.

“I don’t know if this is part of an election stunt or not, but no one here in Petersburg knew about Whatcom County’s involvement,” Knight said, pointing out that County Executive Kremen is seeking re-election. “We’re fired up.”

Kremen did not return a call seeking comment about the reaction from Petersburg, instead asking a Puget Sound Energy spokesman to call The Herald. PSE has nothing to do with the Swan Lake project.

Kremen also had his administrative assistant forward several e-mails to a reporter pointing out the benefits of the proposed project.

County Councilwoman Barbara Brenner said she’s angry that Whatcom County officials never contacted the Alaskan residents about the project, nor did they inform council members, who learned of the project from Alaskan media.

Cascade Creek did have a public hearing in the town recently that is required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which governs such projects.

“I think it’s so rude that nobody who was applying even contacted — nobody from the county — even contacted them,” Brenner said. “I think it’s so disrespectful.”

Other council members said they wished they knew earlier, but they will wait to hear more since the process is in a preliminary stage.

Petersburg residents don’t think the project is green at all, said Mayor Al Dwyer, who also contacted County Council members via e-mail.

“There’s nothing in it for Petersburg, and it’s going to destroy a pristine area,” he said by phone.

Project coordinators and county administrators caution that the applications to FERC are preliminary and do not mean anything will happen. If it does, said project manager Chris Spens, a former senior environmental planner for the city of Bellingham, it’s years away.

Spens told County Council members during a recent information presentation on the proposed project that he believed the public’s concerns would be answered before anything happens.

Petersburg is working on a letter to send to FERC, Dwyer said.

That city generates twice as much power as it needs, and a plan is already in place to send its additional power to Ketchikan, Alaska. In 40 to 50 years, if more power is needed in Petersburg, he said, there are several sources other than the Swan Lake proposal that can be looked at.

“I appreciate their concern,” he said of County Council members. “They seem to be sympathetic to our position.”

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