Critics say an obstacle in the path of migrating salmon is just one of the negative effects the hydroelectric project would have. Richard Leo, board president of the Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives, said the dam will radically change winter river flow and could harm salmon in their first year of life.
The proposed study period for those effects and other environmental concerns is far too short, he said.
Critics also contend the dam will be unnecessary. Parnell's budget includes $50 million for development of a pipeline that could one day carry North Slope natural gas to the Railbelt, Leo said. Alaska homes will need gas for home heating, he said, and when a major pipeline or other gas transmission system inevitably is built and used to deliver gas for power generation, the need for the dam will disappear.
"It would be superfluous and completely unnecessary," he said.
Ford said the project is unique because of licensing work done in the 1980s. The 58 new studies will build on 3,000 previous reports, plus early field work started this year.
An independent auditor is reviewing the latest cost projection, which includes preconstruction activities including licensing costs of $342 million.
FERC is the licensing entity for non-federal hydro projects. The public has until Jan. 18 to comment on the Revised Study Plan. FERC is expected to accept or reject the study by Feb. 1.