Hot Takes in a Cold Place: Something Smells Fishy in Southcentral Alaska

Have you ever attended a public comment meeting that didn’t want the public to comment? 

I have. 

Six, actually. 

All in one week!

The owners of the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project held information–erm, “public comment”–meetings last week in Palmer, Anchorage, and Eagle River. 

They were certainly “informational,” to say the least. Charts, numbers, and graphics, oh my. Cherry-picked information to intentionally mislead information could be found throughout, such as:

  • Intentionally skimming over the fact that sockeye will be unable to spawn and rear their young in the lake with the current proposed plan
  • Claimed to restore 99.6% of habitat (below the dam – failed to mention the miles of potential habitat above the dam).
  • Pointed out that 11 out of 12 miles of river will be restored. Which sounds pretty good, if you forget that this is only about 1/3 of historic fish habitat destroyed by the dam.
  • Failed to mention that the dam currently supplies just about 2-3% of electricity on the grid. They’d rather mention the percentage that it makes up of their renewables portfolio – why is that, you might ask? Well, potentially because they’ve refused to build their renewables portfolio for so long. But what do I know?

Perhaps the most important thing that the project owners (represented by an out-of-state consulting group…) failed to mention is the century of cultural harm that this dam has inflicted upon the Native Village of Eklutna. 

They were, however, eager to mention the negotiation meeting they held with the Native Village of Eklutna in December.

The negotiations meeting… from which NVE’s position was not taken into account in the project proposal. 

And I forgot to mention; the Native of Eklutna, on whose land the dam was installed without consultation nor consent, did not get a voice at the meeting. The project owners, quite literally, refused to give the Native Village of Eklutna a seat at the table. 

After stripping them of their fish and river for one hundred years, after Eklutna, Inc. has provided land for schools, power plant sites, and utility easements, and at a time in which the country is finally recognizing the need for reparations and tribal sovereignty. 

They couldn’t find the time, nor humanity, to give Eklutna people an effective voice in the decision-making about their traditional Eklutna River salmon resources. 

Not one chair. 

Shameful, rises to mind. A few other words too, but I won’t include those here. 

These were not public comment meetings. Sure, they had a table (out of the way of their posters and presentation and scientists) to receive written comments. But the public was not allowed to voice their concerns in a forum for others to hear. When folks did begin to ask questions or provide comments in a public forum, as is typically allowed at a public comment meeting, representatives from MEA and CEA shut them down and directed them to talk with one of their “experts,” in private. 

Shameful. Shady. Something smells fishy in Southcentral Alaska. It’s not the Eklutna River.  And it doesn’t seem like it will be, anytime soon. 

Unless we take action. Join me in telling the project owners what we think about their plan, and their treatment of Eklutna people.

Eklutna, Inc. continues to take the stance that fishing access will be open to all Southcentral anglers once the fish return. Together, we can make this change for the better. For the future.

The most impactful thing you can do right now is submit a unique comment. If you don’t have time, here’s a prefilled comment.

The fish still have a chance. The Native Village of Eklutna still has a chance. Justice still has a chance. 

In solidarity for justice and the Eklutna River’s future,

Julian Ramirez, Salmon and Clean Water Organizer

The Alaska Center

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