Local News

Council talks hydropower, government relations

The Whitman Lake dam is one of the current hydroelectric projects that the City of Ketchikan is developing.

Hydropower opportunities for the community and the city’s relationship with the borough were the big topics of conversation during Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council meeting.

Jason Custer of Alaska Power and Telephone is the spokesman for the Mahoney Lake hydroelectric project, a partnership between AP&T, Cape Fox and the City of Saxman. He spoke during public comment, and asked the Council to consider negotiating with the Mahoney partners to move the project forward.

Custer said the city already is talking with Metlakatla officials to figure out a power exchange. He said that’s commendable, especially when the city’s options remain limited by its power-sales agreement with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

“So, I’m here to recommend that as the city is looking at these different opportunities, that it also makes an attempt to collaborate with the Mahoney Lake partnership in some meaningful ways to see if we can get our heads together and come up with some creative solutions to make this project into a regional resource that benefits the community,” Custer said.

He added that Mahoney already has the federal license needed to move forward.

Council Member Sam Bergeon, who also is a member of the SEAPA board, said he fully supports the Mahoney Lake project.

“My view is that we should be developing every asset that we have,” he said. “Metlakatla, you, everything that we’ve got. Get it online, open up for business.”

Council Member Marty West asked that the issue be placed on the agenda for a future meeting, giving city staff time to gather information and provide input.

Also on the topic of hydroelectric projects, Trey Acteson of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency spoke in support of the planned Swan Lake dam expansion, which is on top of the community priority list for state funding requests.

Bergeron asked what SEAPA would do if state funding were not approved. Acteson said bonds are the backup plan, and he believes all the member communities would support that bond debt. He said SEAPA spends a lot of money maintaining all its hydro facilities.

“Some years, some of those monies may be concentrated in one particular area that benefits a community, other times it may be in another area,” he said. “And Swan doesn’t only benefit Ketchikan. It actually benefits the whole region.”

SEAPA owns the Swan Lake and Tyee Lake dams, and an intertie that connects the two. Power from Swan Lake is dedicated first to Ketchikan, and Tyee’s power goes first to Petersburg and Wrangell. Representatives from all three communities sit on the SEAPA board.

Acteson also was asked how lake levels looked following this unusually warm, dry summer.

“Right now, it doesn’t look real good,” he said. “It’s been probably one of the nicest summers for a long time. Right now, we don’t know what inflows are going to be in October and those will be critical as they were last year. The snow has already come off the mountain. Now it’s just inflows, and we’re below average.”

Regarding city-borough relations, there has been some strain recently, with the two governments struggling to reach agreement over how much non-city Ketchikan Gateway Borough residents should pay for city dispatch and library services.

The Council voted unanimously, but with some grumbling, to accept the borough’s offer of $15,000 for dispatching services. The city had wanted to charge the borough $150,000, but then dropped the offer to $40,000. The borough remained firm, though, and the Council opted to take the original offer.

Library operations funding, though, is not yet resolved. The borough has historically paid for a portion of the city-run library’s operating expenses through a nonareawide fee. The City Council recently approved an agreement calling for the borough to pay about $420,000 for library operations, but the borough has not yet accepted that agreement.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst wants the city to track library use on a monthly basis, to establish whether that annual fee is fair.

The Council agreed to place the item on the agenda for the next Cooperative Relations Committee meeting. That group includes borough and city representatives.

The Cooperative Relations Committee meeting is Sept. 20.

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