Grant Lake hydroelectric project open to comments

Plans for a controversial hydroelectric plant are available for public examination in their most detailed form to date. On March 27, Homer Electric Association, working through its subsidiary Kenai Hydroelectric, submitted a draft of its license application for the Grant Lake hydroelectric project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the national power plant licensing agency. The draft license application contains plans for the Grant lake project that HEA has been developing since it received a preliminary study permit from FERC in 2009.

It will be open to comments from government agencies, interest groups and the public during a 90-day period that will end on June 29. HEA has posted the license application on their website and mailed copies to 100 individuals representing interested parties.

Grant Lake, near the town of Moose Pass, feeds its water into Trail Lake via the approximately one-mile long Grant Creek. Although the draft application describes several alternative projects, the design that HEA plans to pursue would consist of an underground pipe opening below the surface of Grant Lake that will feed water through a pair of turbines generating a combined 5 megawatts before returning it to Grant Creek approximately one half-mile from its source.

One detail that remains undecided is whether HEA will open the project’s access road to the public, making the area surrounding Grant Lake vehicle accessible.

“That will be part of what we anticipate hearing comments on, both from the general public and the (state and federal) landowners,” said HEA’s Manager of Fuel Supply & Renewable Energy Development Mike Salzetti, who has overseen the Grant Lake Project.

Seward resident Mark Luttrell has spoken against the development of Grant Lake as a former president and current member of the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, part of a long-standing opposition movement to the hydroelectric project. He said creating a public access road to the site would be a bad idea.

“They’ll come up against a lot of opposition if they try to make it public access,” Luttrell said. “It’ll bring all the bad habits of humans just a little bit deeper into the wildland.”

Other concerns Luttrell named included possible reduction of salmon spawning ground, the exposure to vandalism of historic artifacts that may exist below the current waterline of Grant Lake, and the possible negative cultural and economic effects of “an industrial facility there in that small town” of Moose Pass.

Luttrell plans to express his concerns to FERC, although he said he is uncertain if FERC gives adequate consideration to comments from the public.

“FERC traditionally is in the business of promoting hydroelectric power,” Luttrell said.

Executive Director Ricky Gease of the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association said that while his group was initially worried about the impact of the Grant Lake project on salmon and trout, revisions to the project have lessened those concerns. Previous designs for the project included a dam at the head of Grant Creek, which was removed in favor of the underwater pipeline opening. Gease said that concerns about the project’s effect on stream temperatures had also been addressed by removing the dam and placing the intake pipe below the surface of the lake.

Grant Creek is used as a spawning ground by sockeye, coho, and chinook salmon, as well as rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. HEA has maintained that the portion of the creek between the intake structure and the release point, which will have decreased flow as a result of the project, is poor spawning ground due to its steepness and swift flow. HEA has proposed removing obstacles from the creek downstream of the release point, which it said will enhance its use as spawning ground. Gease said he believed this measure would be effective.

After the comment period is over, HEA intends to make any modifications to its plans recommended by FERC, then submit a final license application in December 2015.

“Typically it can take FERC anywhere between 9 months and two years to rule on a license application,” Salzetti said.

In addition to the final license, HEA will need to acquire leases on the site, which will occupy state land and federal land managed by Chugach National Forest, as well as construction permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and Grant Creek water rights from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Natural Resources Manager Carl Reese of DNR’s Division of Water, who will examine HEA’s water rights application, said that he is waiting to see the comments submitted to FERC.

“Typically what we do on water rights is we track the licensing process and comments coming from different agencies, like Fish and Game,” Reese said. “And when we write the water-right, we usually mirror what Fish and Game has said, and what FERC has said. We may put in comments based on water-rights related issues, which may make their way into the license as well. Ultimately, once the FERC license is written, we typically write the conditions on the water-right to match that.”

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