Bronson vetoes Anchorage Assembly subpoena effort in fight over Eklutna River restoration

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Apr. 2—Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson on Tuesday vetoed a resolution from the Anchorage Assembly that seeks to unlock a document that has been kept confidential from the public, and which could govern the city's rights and access to drinking water from Eklutna Lake for the next quarter century.

The Assembly passed the resolution on March 27, allowing Assembly Chair Christopher Constant to subpoena the Bronson administration and three Southcentral Alaska utilities for a copy of the term sheet.

Bronson's office said in a prepared statement on Tuesday that the documents have been made available to Assembly members and their legal representatives, so the subpoena is unnecessary.

"Why are assembly members spending taxpayer dollars for their attorneys to subpoena documents they already have access to?" Bronson said in the statement. "These threatening subpoenas are nothing more than scare tactics to bully municipal employees into potentially breaching municipal contracts."

Assembly members reviewed the binding term sheet during a February closed-door session. But they have called for the administration and utilities to make the document public, a step that has not been taken.

Constant said in an interview on Tuesday that the Assembly will vote at the April 9 meeting to consider overriding the veto. He said the term sheet is important because it affects the city's water price, volume and rights for decades to come.

The Assembly subpoena measure passed 8-4 in a special Assembly meeting. Assembly members Karen Bronga, Kevin Cross, Scott Myers and Randy Sulte voted against the measure.

Constant declined to predict if the proposed veto override will pass next week.

The term sheet was signed between the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility and the three utilities that own the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, the Chugach Electric Association, the Matanuska Electric Association and the Anchorage Hydropower Utility.

The three utilities have drafted a legally required Fish and Wildlife program to mitigate the impacts of their hydroelectric project, which was built in 1955 by the federal government.

They have proposed restoring water flow to most of the Eklutna River northeast of Anchorage, but leaving one mile of the river dry just below the hydroelectric project's earthen dam.

Bronson supports that proposal, which would use the city's existing water supply infrastructure to replenish the river's flow via a portal valve. That proposal would cost an estimated $57 million and be paid for with electric rates and Anchorage property taxes.

The Assembly, Native Village of Eklutna and conservation organizations want to see the 12-mile river fully restored, with a goal of restoring fish to Eklutna Lake and the mountain streams that feed the lake.

The governor of Alaska is expected to decide the matter later this year.

The term sheet would govern Anchorage's rights and access to drinking water from Eklutna Lake for the next 25 years, if the Alaska governor approves the draft program, according to city officials.

Bronson said in his veto on Tuesday that the term sheet is subject to a Common Interest Agreement signed by the municipality in 2017, under former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Bronson does not object to Assembly members accessing the documents, but releasing them publicly would raise significant legal concerns, the statement from Bronson's office said.

"The Municipality agreed in 2017 that no party would have the authority to waive any privilege or defense on behalf of any other party without the consent from the other parties," the veto said. "Chugach and MEA have not waived their rights under the Common Interest Agreement."

Chugach and Matanuska Electric on Tuesday declined to say why they have not waived their rights.

"The Eklutna Project owners have no comment at this time," Julie Hasquet, with Chugach Electric Association, said in an emailed statement.

The city, which currently owns 53% of the hydroelectric project, for years hasn't had voting rights within the ownership group. That has ultimately left the Chugach and Matanuska electric utilities in charge of the draft Fish and Wildlife program.

An order from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in 2020 removed the city's voting rights because the municipality does not have a qualified executive overseeing the Anchorage Hydropower Utility, a position that is still vacant.

The dam mitigation project has implications for Anchorage property taxpayers because the city would be responsible for paying for a portion of the project — while the Assembly, the city's fiduciary authority, has had no real oversight, Assembly leaders have said.

"What's most amazing about this whole thing is this administration has granted to Chugach and Matanuska electric associations the authority to expend municipal dollars without Assembly approval," Constant said Tuesday. "He has literally handed to them the right to levy taxes effectively. It is a shock."