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SEAPA seeks control of Swan Lake hydro in Ketchikan

 


PETERSBURG – The Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA) board held its regular meeting in Petersburg last week, with board members in attendance from Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg. Much of the meeting focused on project updates and approving the company’s FY17 budget.

SEAPA CEO Trey Acteson asked the board to consider a motion to provide one-year notice to end the contract with Ketchikan Public Utilites (KPU), concerning operations at Swan Lake hydroelectric plant near Ketchikan. For Acteson, the move makes sense because it would increase SEAPA’s control of operations at the agency owned Swan Lake facilities.

The restructuring would be similar to a 2014 shift SEAPA conducted at Tyee Lake, with Thomas Bay Power Authority, based out of Wrangell.

“The sky didn’t fall like everybody said it was gonna, the lights didn’t go out and power continues to be delivered,” Acteson said.

Board member Stephen Prysunka of Wrangell said ending the Thomas Bay Power Authority contract at Tyee Lake caused division in his community, and Wrangell is still dealing with the repercussions. Prysunka thought waiting to make a decision would be the best course of action.

SEAPA board member Lew Williams III of Ketchikan, who is also board chair of KPU and mayor of Ketchikan, disagreed with the timing and hasty nature of the proposal. He said the proposal made sense, but more thought and discussion is needed before making a change.

Board member Joe Nelson of Petersburg spoke in support of SEAPA taking the initiative and increasing company control. One of Nelson’s biggest concerns with continuing with KPU was power plant operations and maintenance (O&M) and getting delays or setbacks dealt with in a timely manner.

Board member Judy Zenge of Ketchikan said the change made sense, but agreed with Williams about waiting before giving it the go ahead.

SEAPA board member Andy Donato, and KPU Electric Division manager, did not see the gray areas Nelson referred to, and said he thought SEAPA and KPU working together created multiple benefits.

“You got a contractor that’s responsible for the O&M of the project, then you have something occur, something that needs to be fixed,” Nelson said. “Is that O&M or does that go beyond that?”

Board chair John Jensen of Petersburg agreed SEAPA taking over O&M would benefit the organization, but did not like the idea of taking such swift action to end the KPU contract.

“I agree with what’s been said at the table here, it’s not an instant process,” he said. “I think we need to keep it in our discussion a little bit longer and work out the details.”

There were multiple board members at the meeting, but only five voting members. The board voted 4-1 to table the motion, with Nelson being the only vote against taking more time to decide.

The board also heard Acteson detail recent communications between SEAPA management and KPU, concerning the start of the Swan Lake construction project resulting in friction between both parties.

SEAPA is in the beginning stages of a multi-million dollar project aimed at increasing water storage by adding height to the Swan Lake dam. SEAPA ran into problems when the lake level was too high for crews to safely get started.

“When Pacific Pile mobilized that first weekend I mean we had water up on the spillway, and this did hamper some of the pre-construction activities,” Acteson said. “I mean they’ve gotta build, put anchors on, put the safety walkways up, and these were all the functions that had planned to be taken at that time.”

Prior to the incident, Acteson reached out to KPU to purchase more power and help lower the lake level. KPU told him the terms of their power sales agreement with SEAPA did not require the purchase to be made.

“SEAPA spent over three years diligently securing permits, soliciting grants, engineering a low cost innovative design, executing multiple complex contracts,” Acteson said. “So everything considered, the agency really anticipated a little higher spirit of cooperation with regard to achieving necessary lake levels leading up to that construction project.”

Prysunka of Wrangell said he was disappointed in the lack of preparation shown with start of the Swan Lake project. Prysunka found it unacceptable and costly to put in the effort and expense to mobilize construction equipment then be unable to work. An issue, like lowering the lake level, should be resolved well before such an expansive project is slated to begin, not weeks, he said.

“I have raised this as an ongoing concern that the level of cooperation from Ketchikan on various issues has been poor. Now there may be another side to that story, but I don’t like it and I

don’t like where it’s heading,” he said. “We’re jumping in bed on this huge project with a lot of money and it makes me very nervous for my community.”

During the meeting, multiple board members stressed the importance of SEAPA being a united front representing Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell. Board member Prysunka said he really liked the idea of SEAPA expanding its support in all three communities, whether it was finding a way to support local events or getting proactive when it comes to public relations. Prysunka admitted the idea of SEAPA being a cooperative, that Wrangell is a part of, can be easily forgotten.

“I would really like to see us make a push between the three communities to constantly remind folks that it’s a cooperative,” he said. “Constantly reminding folks that collectively we are stronger than we are as individuals, and that all the projects benefit everybody. Swan doesn’t just benefit Ketchikan, it benefits our whole collective.”

 

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