The Juneau Assembly is now on record as supporting an extension of electric power to Cascade Point at the end of Glacier Highway, also known as Veterans Memorial Highway.
A resolution adopted at a special meeting Wednesday says an extension of power would support economic and housing development, as well as public safety out the road, while reducing dependence on diesel fuel for power generation.
But Auke Bay resident Karla Hart criticized the measure for what it doesn’t say. Namely that extending power would also benefit the Kensington Mine and other mining developments in the area, as well as major landowners like Goldbelt Corporation.
“I just don’t see that this is well thought out in terms of public policy,” Hart said during public testimony on the resolution. “It feels very much like its being pushed through for some private special interests.”
Hart also criticized the lack of public input on the resolution. The idea was first floated by Mayor Merrill Sanford at an Assembly retreat in October. Deputy Mayor Mary Becker made a motion requesting a draft resolution last week, and a copy was first made public on Monday. Hart said she first learned that the resolution was coming up for a vote an hour before Wednesday’s meeting.
“This is tying in with a lot of things that you realize are pretty controversial in the community,” she said. “To just push this through and ask for it in a big hurry without any understanding of what’s going on by most of the community is irresponsible in my opinion.”
Mayor Sanford pointed to letters written to Juneau’s legislative delegation last session seeking state funding for an extension of electrical infrastructure. Officials from Kensington, Goldbelt, and the Juneau Building & Construction Trades Council were among those who wrote the letters.
Sanford says the project has been discussed on and off in various forums for years.
“At Southeast Conference we dealt with it as one of the options of getting out to the mine,” Sanford said. “So, we’ve had lots of opportunity to go through, and you can see by the people who have written or have supported this that there is a lot of support within the community.”
Hart replied that she still felt the resolution deserved more scrutiny.
“Most of us who are private individuals in the community are not members of Southeast Conference,” she said. “It’s an expensive organization to join as an individual, and it’s expensive to go to their meetings. So Southeast Conference, while it’s a venue for some of you, it’s not a public venue in the sense of a public-Juneau-citizen-voter-community discussion.”
Assembly member Loren Jones objected when Sanford asked if the Assembly wanted to adopt the resolution unanimously. Jones asked two questions, including how much it would cost to extend power to the end of the road.
For the answer, Sanford called upon Duff Mitchell, Vice President and Business Manager of Juneau Hydropower, Inc., who said he thought it would be about $20 million.
Juneau Hydropower is seeking to develop a hydroelectric project at Sweetheart Lake about 30 miles southeast of the Capital City. The company’s website says Juneau Hydropower “hopes to produce green renewable energy for the wholesale/industrial market.”
Jones removed his objection, and the resolution passed unanimously.