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Denali National Park improvement proposal includes new mini hydro project

A multi-faceted piece of legislation introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, could see a new 50 kW micro hydro power plant fast-tracked for construction in Alaska's Denali National Park.

The legislation, called the Denali Park Improvement Act, would allow the National Park Service to issue a special-use permit to speed construction of the project. It would also provide authority for the park service to exchange 10 acres of land with Doyon Tourism for construction of the project.

The plan would allow Doyon -- a Fairbanks-based native corporation -- to build a project on Eureka Creek to power Katishna Roadhouse, a back-country lodge that Doyon owns 100 miles inside the park. The lodge currently is powered by diesel generation.

"Hydropower provides clean, renewable electricity, and we should pursue its use wherever possible," Murkowski said. "It makes sense to develop a small hydro project within the park to allow Doyon to substantially reduce its reliance on diesel fuel."

The Katishna plan is almost identical to one proposed by Murkowski in 2011, though the senator's earlier scheme called for a 100 kW hydropower project.

This newest version of the plan has already received the support the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), which said hydropower will not only reduce fossil fuel emissions, but also keep fuel trucks off Denali's roads.

"Any times you can reduce diesel consumption by generating electricity with hydro equals a good day for the planet," said Jim Stratton, NCPA Senior Regional Director for Alaska. "We strongly endorse this part of the legislation that enables Kantishna lodge owners to do just that.

Also included in the Denali Park Improvement Act are measures for subterranean natural gas pipelines and a proposal to rename the Talkeetna Ranger Station after mountain climber Walter Harper.

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