A permit allowing the China Region Lakes Alliance to remove the Masse Dam in Vassalboro has been approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but opponents of the project are considering whether to appeal the state’s decision after their request for a public hearing was denied.

The lakes group applied for the natural resources permit in May 2017 on behalf of the Alewife Restoration Initiative, a partnership among a number of environmental groups hoping to restore the tiny herring to the lakes of Maine. The group plans to either remove dams or replace them with fish passageways at six locations along the Outlet Stream to allow alewives to migrate freely to and from China Lake.

“Obviously we’re pleased to be moving forward,” said Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, one of the organizations involved in the restoration project. “Getting the barrier out of the stream is an important next step.”

Approval of the Individual Natural Resources Protection Act permit comes after an initial application was rejected in August 2016. It’s contingent on the group following the standards of the specific permit and taking all necessary steps to prevent “measurable erosion” at the construction site.

A time for the removal has not been scheduled.

The alewife group already has torn down an old sawmill and relocated water pipes along the Outlet Stream in East Vassalboro, which it views as major pluses for the town.

But some residents oppose the project and protested the plan to remove the Masse Dam and lower the water level. While they aren’t against the idea of alewives passing through to China Lake, they are upset at the potential consequences to the area and the way the alewife group is going about the project.

Charlie Hartman, a resident who opposes it, said she and others are considering filing an appeal of the permit.

“I’m very disappointed that the citizens of East Vassalboro were not given the opportunity to speak publicly on this issue, because we have a lot of things to say,” Hartman said. She and others had been hoping the state would require a public hearing in the case.

In the approval of the application, Eric Sroka, a project manager for the Bureau of Land Resources, says that several people expressed concerns about the lack of boating and fishing opportunities in the Mill Pond and upper Outlet Stream, as well as the potential loss of wildlife in the area.

An analysis by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife found that there was “significant wildlife habitat” for waterfowl located downstream of the dam. The biologists reviewing the area said the dam removal won’t “unreasonably impact” the wildlife, although many residents are worried that it will, and some say that it already has.

Hartman and Jonathan Blumberg, another Vassalboro resident, also wrote to the department commissioner asking that the issue be transferred to the Board of Environmental Protection.

According to their letter, the restoration initiative stems from a 30-year-old legislative plan delegated to the Department of Marine Resources and the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife aimed at breeding and producing bait fish in the region for commercial harvest. Commercial lobstermen often use alewives as bait.

Hartman and Blumberg accused the commercial interests and state departments of exploiting the local resources of the multiple towns involved in the project. They asked the department to hold a public hearing and ultimately deny the application.

Hudson did not comment on the letter, and instead referred to the response from the Department of Environmental Protection, which found that the request didn’t meet the necessary criteria to move the case to the board’s jurisdiction.

Hudson did comment on the question of whether alewives were historically present in the area.

In a news release, Hudson pointed to Massachusetts State Archive records that mention the flow of alewives along Outlet Stream in Vassalboro.

One of the records, located in Boston, is a letter written by Stacy Blish, of Vassalboro, in 1799, who wrote that alewives swam up a stream called “Mile brook” before the mills and dams were built in the area.

Other petitions and letters also mention the passage of alewives before the installation of dams and mills, according to the release.

“Rivers have been changed a lot, and we’re lucky that some of the species which have been gone completely from places like the Outlet Stream are able to come back and are resilient,” Hudson said.

Hartman, however, said she thinks the historical record “just sort of muddies the water moving forward.” She and other residents question whether alewives ever made it to China Lake in the past. Without seeing the records themselves, she finds the new evidence “inconclusive,” as she’s found historical records in Vassalboro that argue the opposing point.

In Maine, it’s illegal to introduce a non-native fish species into a lake.

The state Department of Marine Resources has said previously that its position is that alewives are historically native to the lake.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

mstamour@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @madelinestamour