At the Skagway Borough Assembly meeting Thursday, a proposal to apply for a grant that would fund an environmental review of the West Creek Hydroelectric Project turned into a discussion about the merits of the project itself.
The borough assembly voted to authorize the municipality to apply for a $500,000 grant from the Alaska Energy Authority that would fund an environmental review of the West Creek Hydro Project.
Borough Manager Scott Hahn says the review would examine potential impacts to transportation, aesthetics, noise, air quality, cultural historic and archaeological resources, recreation, socioeconomics and environment. This kind of study is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The goal of the hydro project is to provide sustainable power to cruise ships in Skagway during the summer in order to cut diesel pollution. The Yukon government has also expressed interest in sharing the hydro power.
Some Skagway residents would rather the area of West Creek remain undeveloped.
“West Creek is up a beautiful valley, [a hydro project] would impact our community greatly,” said Jeff Brady, who lives on West Creek Road.
Brady said he wasn’t against the environmental review, but he didn’t agree with wording in the resolution that says the municipality wishes to move ahead with licensing for the project. He said without public support, the municipality shouldn’t make that kind of statement.
“There is no widespread support for this project, as you know,” Brady said.
A survey from a few years ago showed divided opinions of the hydro project among Skagway residents. 44 percent of respondents said they supported it, 31 percent said no and 24 percent said maybe.
Assemblyman Gary Hanson echoed Brady’s concern that the project doesn’t have the public’s backing.
“We’re going forward with a project that I don’t think has public support,” he said. “We’ve have people come and talk to us in meetings past that they don’t support this project.”
Assemblyman Dan Henry said he had not heard resounding opposition from people. And, he said, Skagway needs to address the pollution that comes with its cruise ship industry.
“I’ve heard people say they don’t want it because they want to keep West Creek pristine,” Henry said. “And that would be great, I’d love the whole valley to be pristine. But we invite 10,000 people to come in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and so forth.”
Other assembly members said even if there is some opposition the project, an environmental review will just help inform people. As Spencer Morgan put it, ‘it’s knowledge for the voters.’
“In applying for this grant, we’re getting free money for education,” Morgan said. “And it’s education for the community on what potentially could be a very contentious issue. And I think anytime you can educate voters on a issue that will be a pretty big one, and the money is going to be given to you to do this, I think it’s the responsibility of the assembly to do that.”
The resolution to authorize the municipality to apply for the AEA grant passed five to one, with Hanson voting ‘no.’
Borough Manager Scott Hahn says he will file the application before the end of this month.