September 13, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 37

Hydro project may require state lease

Siting a hydroelectric powerhouse and transmission lines in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve would likely fall under a lease by the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, according to parks staff.

Even then, the question may come down to an attorney general’s opinion, said Clair LeClair, deputy director of field operations for the state Division of Parks.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses power projects, recently told Connelly Lake hydroelectric project developer Alaska Power & Telephone that the agency wouldn’t advance the licensing process without assurances the state would allow construction in the preserve.

AP&T is currently looking to locate its powerhouse in the preserve, but hasn’t made an official request to do so.

LeClair said the eagle preserve, as specified in state law, is removed from multi-purpose use. Traditional uses – like hunting, firewood gathering and fishing – are allowed.

State law regarding the preserve, however, does allow the commissioner to lease preserve land “for purposes consistent with” the purpose of the preserve, specifically “to protect and perpetuate the Chilkat bald eagles and their essential habitats.”

LeClair said in most parks, allowed uses are black and white. But the commissioner’s lease option “makes it gray.”

Such a request would trigger likely a legal review. “How do we decide if it’s consistent. That’s the million dollar question right now,” LeClair said.

The lease represents the only way of building a powerhouse in the preserve, she said.

“I don’t see any way other than that in which we could authorize them to build something in the preserve that wasn’t related to the preserve’s purposes,” LeClair said.

If the state decides the project isn’t consistent with the preserve, it would be up to Alaska Power and Telephone to modify their plans, including moving the powerhouse, she said.