Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – The Salmon Creek Dam, built in 1914 and operated as a hydroelectric dam, was dedicated in Juneau on Saturday as a civil engineering monument by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
ASCE members came to Juneau to hold the dedication at the Juneau-Douglas Museum on Saturday afternoon. The ASCE Historic Designation recognizes local, national, and international civil engineering projects, structures, and sites of historic significance.
Lawrence Magura, director of the company, said more than 240 projects worldwide have been honored under the program, and includes landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal.
“Today, ASCE is proud to recognize the Salmon Creek Dam, completed in 1914, in support of the Alaska Goldmine Project in the Juneau Gold Belt. This remarkable structure is the first in the world – and it is what the heritage historical program is trying to commemorate.the first thing – in this case, it was a constant angle thin arch concrete dam. Its creation strongly influenced the work of a generation of hydraulic engineers and has served as the prototype for a growing class of concrete dams that eventually included the Hoover Dam.
Photo credit: AEL&P
Planning for the construction of Salmon Creek Dam began in 1911 when site surveys were carried out. The Alaska-Gastineau mining company set out to build the dam to provide low-cost hydroelectricity to run its operations. It was completed and operational in 1914.
“Through the hard work of (Chief Engineer) Harry Wollenberg, hydraulics engineer Lars R. Jorgensen, its construction was the first large-scale implementation of the constant angle…a design so revolutionary that ‘In 1931, more than 40 constant-angle dams were built around the world, and for decades the concept has continued to be used to the present day,’ he said.
Sites must be named in order to be a civil engineering landmark and be assessed by the ASCE History and Heritage Committee. The documents used to advance the dam’s bid were authored by the late Scott Willis, who was a civil engineer with AEL&P. His paper on the dam is credited with providing the basis for the successful nomination. The dam was later named by the Alaska Chapter of the ASCE.
His wife, Gaye Willis, spoke at the inauguration.
“I think the builders of Salmon Creek fascinated Scott, as he had witnessed great building projects, marking a half sense of the hard work behind them and the advancement of tools that came during his life,” she said. “He marveled at what these engineers did to design and build the dam using innovative design, in a harsh environment with unimaginable rugged terrain and supply chain issues, and they did it in two seasons.”
Willis holding a historical plaque.
In 1933, the assets of the AG company were sold to the Alaska Juneau Mining Company. In 1973, the assets of the AJ mine, including the hydroelectric plants, were purchased by AEL&P. In 1984, AEL&P rehabilitated the Salmon Creek project.
Today, AEL&P continues to operate the Salmon Creek hydroelectric project. Salmon Creek’s average production is about 30 million kilowatt hours each year, and according to the ASCE, it supplies about 7% of Juneau’s electrical power. Water from the project also provides approximately one-third of the city’s municipal water supply.
Vice President and Director of Energy Services Alec Mesdag said he started working at the company around the time Willis was writing about the dam.
“It is truly wonderful to see the project recognized with this historic designation,” he said. “Scott was definitely, just really an awesome person, and someone who meant a lot to me, just having the time I had to come back and work with them, because you really have to care about something to something, and that’s our job now. AEL&P must continue to nurture this project so that it continues to serve our community for decades to come,” said Mesdag.
A physical plaque will be placed onsite at the dam, along with a plaque honoring Willis.