Work begins on Eklutna River dam removal
Deconstructing the old dam wedged in an Eklutna River ravine begins this month, a megaproject to eventually help native salmon return to home waters.
The $7.5 million project is funded by the Conservation Fund in a partnership with Eklutna Inc., which is providing the labor, Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen said June 5 at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Make it Monday Forum.
Eklutna Inc. became the default owners of the derelict dam because it was built there in 1929 on the traditionally Dena’ina Athabaskan land. It was abandoned after World War II when the new Eklutna dam began to supply more power to the burgeoning wartime Anchorage population.
Now the task is to take the dam out, McQueen said.
“More than 300,000 cubic squares of sediment has built up, along with junk cars, television sets and all kinds of trash thrown there,” he said.
Much of that was taken out last year. This summer’s work involves installing a system to secure the job site and make it safe so that large concrete slabs can be chiseled into smaller chunks.
It takes the largest crane known to exist in Alaska to handle the job, McQueen said. Getting the crane to the work area took 40 tractor-trailer trucks. At 400 feet tall, the crane is charged with the task of lowering bulldozers and other equipment about 200 feet into the canyon. The crane was installed in last season’s work.
For the workers, there aren’t a lot of places to stand. Rock falls down the cliff face. Descending the canyon couldn’t be done without the 700-foot staircase built to secure the work site last year.
Now the site is staged for the work to begin breaking into the dam’s concrete edifice but a few more permits are needed, McQueen said.
McQueen believes Eklutna is the first Tribe in the nation to get involved in such a massive project, he told the Chamber.
“We haven’t heard of another story where the actual Native people are playing a part in the removal of a dam,” he said.
Brad Meiklejohn, Alaska State Director of the Conservation Fund, said the project has historic ramifications not only for dismantling the dam. It signifies the first step in the long process of restoring the Eklutna River’s historic salmon populations — and it rights an historical wrong.
“The village is there because there used to be a lot of salmon. The dam got built without consulting them and the fish population really dropped off,” Meiklejohn said. “This is something that happened to them. They’re the ones who are fixing it, taking care of someone else’s mess. They are fixing a mistaken artifact of history. (The project) restores the fish and makes amends for some of the things we did wrong.”
To read more, visit the Alaska Journal of Commerce.