Funter Bay History: Water and Hydropower Part III

As I’ve noted in several previous posts, hydroelectric power was a big part of industrial development at Funter Bay. The availability of water in useful quantities and at sufficient elevation meant that electricity or mechanical power could be generated “for free”. In this case, “free” meant no ongoing fuel costs for diesel, coal, or wood. The initial development of water power sites, such as building dams, digging ditches, and laying pipes, still took time and money.

Despite being a rainforest, Southeast Alaska has a lot of variation in water availability on an industrial scale. Winter can freeze pipes and reservoirs, and mid-summer can dry up small streams. Most small industries like canneries and gold mines were able to operate using small ditch and pipe networks, but they did sometimes run short of water. Over the years there were several proposals for larger, more reliable hydroelectric systems at Funter Bay.

In 1931 the Admiralty-Alaska Gold Mining company used at least seven small to mid-size water power systems to meet their needs. These included the following:

-6ft Undershot Pelton water wheel, driving mill equipment via belt.
-4ft Undershot Knight water wheel, also belt-drive to mill
-24″ Pelton water wheel running a 5KW D.C generator for lighting
(All of these were under 60ft of hydraulic head, meaning a 60ft vertical drop from the water supply ditch to the wheels).
-Auxilliary lighting generator of 1KW, also operated by water wheel (size not listed).
-5.5ft water wheel under 359ft head running a Chicago Pneumatic 24x18x14 air compressor.
-6ft Pelton water wheel under 57ft head, running a 14×16 Ingersoll Rand compressor
-24″ “Water Motor” under 357ft of head, operating an exhaust fan.

All of these water-power systems were unreliable enough that the mine also had on hand two 100hp MacIntosh Seymour “Full Diesel” engines to run the mill and compressors. In addition, there were several steam engines in use on the property, including an 8-ton steam locomotive and a 90hp logging donkey.

The 1931 company report proposed a major hydroelectric development to replace these smaller systems. This new project was to cost nearly $800,000 and would have included the following:

-New dam with conduit tunnel and pipeline to power plant
-Four 2,500KVA Generators and related transformers.
-Twenty miles of transmission line on 50ft high steel towers, with dual 4,000Kw circuits. (Other documents say a 30-mile line would be needed).

This project would have been built South of Funter Bay at Lake Kathleen. I’ve previously posted some maps of the proposal here. For various reasons including funding and mine productivity, this was never actually constructed.

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Another hydroelectric proposal surfaced in 1979 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The full published report can be found here.

This proposal was never fully fleshed out, and included a lot of wild assumptions. For example, the project assumed that Funter Bay’s population would grow from an average of 14 year-round residents in 1979 to 17 in 2000 and 23 in 2030 (actual year-round population was around 8-10 in the year 2000 and is around 3-5 as of 2020).

The engineers proposed a 5′ tall cement dam at the site of the former Dano Mine adit, a 150kW turbine, and 4.5 miles of transmission line circling the bay.

A map of the proposed setup can be found here.

This project also failed to go anywhere. Like many proposed infrastructure projects in Alaska, the only result was a contract to an engineering firm and some paperwork to be forgotten by the government. I am not sure which, if any, of the hydroelectric sites proposed in this study were ever developed.

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