Earlier this year the state of Alaska requested an abeyance on the Susitna Dam project putting on hold of the $8 billion project.
Despite overwhelming science that shows a dam on the Susitna River would have catastrophic effects on the region, Governor Bill Walker has not given up on the project.
“Yes, we are relieved for now, but the state is still trying to prepare the science that was done in the last five years to apply for the license,” Mike Wood, Executive Director for the Susitna River Coalition, told Salmon & Steelhead Journal. “Alaska has no money to build this boondoggle. That is the only reason it is stopped for now.”
In 2014 the state’s overall budget, which is directly tied to the state’s oil and gas industry, began to flag and as of the 2016 legislative session the state’s budget entered crisis mode. From 2010 to 2015 nearly $200 million was spent on pre-project studies through the permitting process under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In light of the budget crisis Governor Walker’s announcement in June was a small victory.
“The Susitna River Coalition remains vigilant and we are pursuing ways to keep this Zombie project from resurrecting from the dead for the fourth time in the state’s history,” says Wood.
The dam would be one of the largest dams built in modern-day times surpassing Hoover Dam and costing between $5 and $8 billion to build. At stake is damming the 300-mile Susitna River, which flows unimpeded through Alaska before meeting up with the Pacific Ocean. Home to all five species of Pacific salmon, the Susitna River boasts the state’s fourth largest run of Chinook salmon. The proposed dam site is in the heart of southcentral Alaska in the shadow of Denali National Park. Not only would it severely alter the Susitna watershed, but it would have drastic effects on the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, one of the state’s most important sport and commercial fisheries. The proposed dam site was located 184 miles upriver from Cook Inlet.
The Susitna Dam, which would be used to generate power, would create a 42-mile reservoir that would flood 40,000 acres of prime caribou, moose and bear habitat. With regard to the river’s cherished salmon runs, it would destroy spawning and rearing habitat severely altering the wild salmon populations.