Sappi Fine Paper is considering two designs for creating a passageway for fish at Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook.

One would make it easier for alewives to get up and over the falls, while the other would be better for kayakers coming down.

The paper company will reveal and take public input on the two designs at a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Westbrook High School.

Both plans call for the removal of the dam. One design includes the construction of a fish ladder on the western side of the falls, leaving the eastern side, where the city is looking to add recreational features, as it is, said John Williams, a spokesman for Sappi.

The other plan would create more natural-looking passageways on both sides, which could make it harder for the city’s plans, he said.

The paper company was originally supposed to build a fish ladder over its dam at the falls on the Presumpscot River by last spring.

But by agreeing to consider removing the dam altogether, it received a two-year extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Sappi has said it needs to have a design in place this summer in order to meet the new 2017 deadline for creating the passageway for migratory fish, such as alewives, shad and herring.

The company will accept public comments on the designs through Sept. 11, then submit the chosen plan to FERC for approval.

For years, the paper company fought against state and federal requirements to build fish passages at its dams on the Presumpscot River.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife ruled in 2009 that Sappi would have to build a fishway at Cumberland Mills, its dam farthest down the river, used to draw water for cooling.

The creation of a fish ladder at that dam triggered federal requirements that Sappi build fish passages at its hydroelectic dams upstream to eventually allow fish to repopulate the entire river.

The Saccarappa Dam was the first of those, but Sappi agreed to surrender its federal license to generate power there in favor of removing the dam – part of a vision the city has for turning the river that runs through its downtown into a recreation destination and engine for economic development.

The city has already begun to capitalize on the natural feature and its prime location by installing ramps and floating docks that are used by fishermen and by starting a program for kayak and paddleboard rentals.

Additional ideas for the future include a man-made wave for whitewater kayakers and a zipline that dumps into the river.

 

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