The Atlantic Salmon Federation received a nearly $400,000 grant Tuesday to help pay for the removal of a deteriorating dam in Whitefield.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said the grant would help fund the removal of the Coopers Mills Dam on the Sheepscot River to improve fish passage.

“This is a great project that is going to invest in the local community and at the same time improve the health of these fish,” Pingree said in a release.

Voters in Whitefield approved the plan to remove the dam at Town Meeting in March in part because the salmon federation said it would cost the town nothing.

“I didn’t know how they were going to finance the dam’s removal,” said Dennis Merrill, chairman of the Whitefield Select Board, who did not know about the grant award. “I’m very glad and extremely pleased that we received the grant.”

Merrill doesn’t think the grant award will help expedite the removal of the dam, but he did say that the grant helps to assure the town that the dam will be removed as soon as possible.

The federation’s initial proposal called for removal of the dam, construction of three dry hydrants for increased fire safety and creation of a public space focused on historic preservation. The estimated cost of the project is nearly $800,000, and the salmon federation and Midcoast Conservancy expect to fund the remaining cost.

Andrew Goode, Atlantic Salmon Federation vice president of U.S. programs, said the municipal Fire Department uses a pond behind the dam for fire protection, but that source became unreliable because of leaks in the dam. The three new hydrants will draw from the Sheepscot River.

In addition to the dam removal and hydrant construction, the federation plans to construct a viewing area there and to preserve the history of several of the mills that operated at the site in the early 19th century.

“This is a win for everyone,” Pingree said. “Not only will it free up part of the river for fish passage, but it will improve fire protection in Whitefield and preserve the history of this site.”

The grant, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will help restore this natural habitat for important sea run species such as herring and salmon, Pingree said. Recent shortages of herring, a popular source of bait for the state’s lobster industry, have caused problems for fishermen.

Goode said previously he expects the project to be completed in 2018.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ