VASSALBORO — A years-long project to restore alewife habitat is nearing the halfway mark with crews actively working now to build a complex fishway over the so-called Ladd Dam on the China Lake Outlet Stream.

The Ladd Dam fishway is part of a larger Alewife Restoration Initiative involving six dams on Outlet Stream to restore the passage of the migratory fish to local streams and to China Lake.

“It’s a complicated project involving a lot of partners,” said Landis Hudson, executive director for the nonprofit Maine Rivers, which has handled fundraising, permitting and other logistics for project designs provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “It’s very exciting and I’m very proud to be able to work on it. Alewife restoration is inspiring work because we know the changes we make will bring about rapid recoveries. The fish are ready, we just have to catch up with them.”

Workers with Ranger Construction build a fish passageway around the Ladd Dam on China Lake Outlet Stream in Vassalboro on Tuesday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

On Tuesday, workers continued to build the Denil-style fishway at the privately-owned dam, involving a 150-foot-long concrete channel that controls the flow of water and fish. Officials have already removed two dams on the stream and started work on the Ladd Dam fishway in July.

“This is one of the bigger, more challenging projects,” said Matt Streeter, project manager for Maine Rivers. “A fishway is more expensive and complex (than dam removal) and it really has to be designed to properly maximize the passage of fish.”

Streeter said the six dam projects are scheduled to be finished by the end of 2022 and that alwives could be migrating from the ocean, up the stream and into China Lake by the spring season of 2023. China Lake has some 4,000 acres of space that could accommodate enough spawning habitat for hundreds of thousands of alewives, Streeter said.

Hudson said she’s grateful Maine Rivers has been able to partner with the China Lake Association, towns of China and Vassalboro, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Maine Department of Marine Resources.

The fishway at Ladd Dam is especially important to maintain a swimming hole for people to enjoy swimming and fishing, Hudson said. She said the total project is costing more than $1 million and has already more than five years of planning and meetings.

“It’s certainly worth it,” she said. “It will bring benefits for generations, for both fish and people and communities.”

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