AP&T makes push for Connelly Lake
Alaska Power and Telephone officials are pressuring the Haines Borough to formally support the proposed Connelly Lake hydroelectric project, but Mayor Stephanie Scott isn’t budging until she gets more information.
AP&T president Bob Grimm, project manager Glen Martin and Skagway AP&T manager Darren Belisle have stated the borough’s failure to formally support the Connelly Lake project is hindering the company’s ability to acquire grant funding and obtain permission from the state to build in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
“They just have to come out with a resolution stating that they would like to see Connelly Lake go forward and the studies go forward,” Belisle said in an interview this week.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stated in a letter to AP&T last August that the utility would need permission from the state to build in the eagle preserve before FERC would move ahead with the project’s licensing process.
Grimm said AP&T approached the state and asked if it would provide access to land in the preserve, but state officials said they needed to see support from the borough before they made a decision on the matter.
“When that question was posed to the state, they kind of turned around and said, ‘Well, what do the local elected officials think?’ And we had to disclose to them that the borough had not really taken a position on the project as of yet,” Grimm said.
Neither Grimm nor project manager Martin would identify the state official who was requesting borough support. “I can only (disclose) that this is what the state has told us,” Martin said when asked to provide a name.
Grimm said he would discuss specific individuals with Scott during a teleconference later this week. “I really want to talk to her first before I disclose that... She has asked me the question and we have set up a time to discuss it, and I just don’t want to prematurely bypass her,” Grimm said.
Scott said she is frustrated AP&T is turning the matter into a political issue. Specifically, she said she was irked by Belisle’s public comment during the April 26 Northern Lynn Canal Neighbors Summit indicating the project was being held up by the borough’s lack of official support.
“I believe (Belisle) was suggesting that the people of Haines had to support Connelly Lake for it to go forward and the absence of that support is what is in the way, and I would just say that that’s not the case. That’s not what FERC says, anyway,” Scott said.
“I guess he would be happy with the borough going on record saying we support Connelly Lake. I don’t think they are going to do that,” Scott added.
Scott said she hasn’t heard from anyone at the state asking whether or not the borough supports the project, and AP&T has not yet provided her with a source for where that request for municipal support is coming from. “I’m not going to act on information that doesn’t have a name attached to it. Think of the problems I’d get into,” Scott said. “I need to verify that this is, in fact, the hang-up. I don’t understand why they are saying this.”
Grimm said the borough’s position, paired with funding woes, are putting AP&T between a rock and a hard place. “It’s starting to feel like a perfect storm and something’s got to change. We’re essentially out of money. We’ve gone back to FERC and asked to use the alternative licensing process (ALP) because it’s much more flexible and less expensive,” he said.
In addition to not receiving funding from the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) Renewable Energy Fund this year, AP&T is also being denied reimbursement for $90,000 of a $400,000 grant it received from the AEA several years ago for the Connelly Lake project, Grimm said.
“We had some state money and it appeared from the agencies and the public that was involved that the main concern was (if there would be) any adverse impact on the fishery. In response to that scoping, we focused the dollars we had on that issue. Subsequently, the state has come back and said, ‘No, the money you spent was outside the scope of that grant,’” Grimm said.
Grimm said AP&T will not back down from pursuing Connelly Lake. “I’d like to see the borough get behind the project and indicate that that’s our renewable option... We’re committed to that project until we decide otherwise,” Grimm said.
The teleconference between borough and AP&T officials will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 9. Scott, Grimm, Martin, manager Mark Earnest, Robert Venables, Haines AP&T manager Danny Gonce, and “somebody from the state” will attend, Scott said.