Damming Alaska's Mighty Susitna River?

Dec 03, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The proposed Susitna River hydro project in Alaska would involve building the biggest dam in the United States in 50 years and change the flow of one of the most loved rivers in the state.

In most places, especially the West, where dams are being torn down and not put up, building a $4.5 billion, massive concrete wall in the middle of nowhere would be unthinkable. But this is Alaska, and the Susitna hydro project is as close as it's ever been in the 30 years that the state has been talking about it.

Last week, the Alaska Energy Authority released a new report touting the Susitna River hydro project over other large hydro proposals as the best way to meet energy needs in the Railbelt, an area stretching from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks. At the same time, Gov. Sean Parnell said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow AEA to pursue funding for and ownership of the project.

"I just absolutely believe this is a go," said state Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who has been co-chair of the state Senate Resources Committee. "Having the governor come out and make this a legacy issue for him, at the top of his agenda, has given it a real chance for success."