The project manager for a proposed dam that would rise 735 feet in the Alaska wilderness said it could improve salmon-spawning habitat on the Susitna River, a statement that drew sharp criticism from opponents.

Wayne Dyok and other officials with the project set 87 river miles north of Talkeetna also said this week that the cost estimate for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project has risen to $5.7 billion, a $500 million increase from the last estimate and one that comes at a time when the governor is considering cutting such mega-projects.

Seeking to reduce an estimated $3.5 billion deficit caused by plunging oil prices, Gov. Bill Walker recently removed $20 million in capital funding for the project that had been proposed by his predecessor. The state Legislature could seek to add that and other stricken mega-projects back in, but such efforts will face the "utmost scrutiny," Walker's budget director has said.

Legislators will likely discuss details of the hydroelectric project after they convene next month to consider whether it should receive funding to move forward, leaders said on Wednesday.

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