Ketchikan Daily News: Intertie completion celebrated

Ketchikan's Ted Ferry Civic Center was a who's who in Alaska politics Friday night, with at least 200 people gathered to celebrate the completion of the Swan-Tyee hydroelectric intertie.

Among those attending the party were Sen. Lisa Murkowski, representatives from the offices of Sen. Mark Begich and Rep. Don Young, legislators from throughout the state, former lawmakers, officials from Ketchikan, Saxman, Petersburg, Wrangell and Metlakatla; and representatives from the Alaska Energy Authority, the Denali Commission and various contractors who worked to complete the intertie.

The Southeast Alaska Power Agency was well represented, too, at Friday's Throw the Breaker party, with CEO Dave Carlson, his staff of four and the SEAPA board of directors.

It was an evening of gratitude, with each of the many speakers expressing appreciation for the various people and organizations that helped complete the 57-mile, $115-million intertie.

"We got the project done, and even more important, it's working," Carlson said.

SEAPA actually "threw" the breaker in mid-December, he told the audience Friday, and since then it has sent the equivalent of 381,000 gallons of diesel fuel in energy from the dam at Tyee Lake to Ketchikan's Swan Lake dam.

During her turn at the lectern, Murkowski said, "This is truly, truly a good day."

She said she couldn't remember a time when the intertie wasn't discussed, and the fact that it now is complete is worthy of celebration. Murkowski added that there was a time when completion of the project was in doubt, referring to the halt in construction between 2004 and 2008 due to lack of funding.

"I really did worry that this power corridor could become the largest 57-mile white elephant in Alaska history," she said, and now that it is complete, Alaska has proven that such a project is possible.

She touted the potential to connect more Southeast communities through interties and additional hydroelectric dams, and perhaps reach into Canada and connect to that grid.

"Now we really do want to pray for rain all the time," she said.

Former Sen. Gene Therriault, representing Gov. Sean Parnell's office, lauded the work of former longtime District 1 Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman, who Therriault said pushed the intertie project for many years. Therriault added that the area's current representatives are "tireless advocates" for southern Southeast Alaska projects.

Ketchikan's former mayor, Bob Weinstein, spoke for Sen. Mark Begich's office, as well as for himself. Weinstein - the former chairman of the Four Dam Pool Power Agency, which became SEAPA - recognized many people for their help with the project, including Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and Reps. John Harris, R-Valdez, and Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak.

"They took a state perspective (in supporting the project), and I want to thank them for that," Weinstein said.

He also thanked former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens "for his tireless efforts on this project."

Begich and Rep. Young each sent video recordings of their comments, which were played for the audience. Both offered their congratulations.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, also spoke, and said completing the intertie was a joint effort involving many people.

"It takes a family all around the state to build these projects," he said, adding that the ultimate goal is a Southeast intertie running from Metlakatla to Haines. The next two phases will be a link connecting Metlakatla and Ketchikan, and another connecting Petersburg and Kake, Stedman said.

"I hope I live long enough to see it completed," he said of the entire Southeast intertie.

Reps. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, and Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, each mentioned the time it took to build the intertie, and how pleased they were that it is complete after more than 15 years of planning and work.

"Congratulations to everyone who did so much work on this," Wilson said.

The celebration on Friday included a buffet catered by Cape Fox Lodge and a no-host bar. In an earlier interview, Carlson said the party was paid for by the contractors who worked on the project.

The primary contractor was Oregon-based Wilson Construction, and that company's president, Don Wilson, was one of the speakers Friday. He said the Swan-Tyee intertie was the most challenging job his company ever had, but after listening to all the work everyone else did to keep funding in place, "I'm starting to think we actually had the easy part."

He added that one of the most important accomplishments to him was that the project was accident-free.

# # #

Source: By Leila Kheiry. Originally published by the Ketchikan Daily News on January 31, 2010