The Kruger Energy’s American Tissue dam Wednesday on Cobbosseecontee Stream in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

GARDINER — As a nonprofit continues to work to restore sea-run fish passage on Cobbosseecontee Stream, city officials continue to lend their support to the project.

On Wednesday, the Gardiner City Council agreed to send a letter of support to the state Division of Marine Resources.

“We have the opportunity to fulfill the Cobbossee Corridor Master Plan all the way back from 2005 that envisioned fish passage and trails along Cobbossee Stream,” Tina Wood, who works for the nonprofit Upstream, said.

With this project, Wood said Gardiner would join other communities across the region, including Augusta, Vassalboro and Whitefield, where fish passage — particularly alewives — has been restored.

“It brings people and economic dollars and restoration to our town,” she said.

Alewives are a migrating species of herring that travel from the ocean to freshwater every spring to spawn. Their passage to spawning grounds has been blocked by dams on waterways in Maine and elsewhere, which in some cases has led to fish ladders being built to promote upstream travel. Where fish ladders are not available, alewives have been collected in buckets and are carried over the dam to continue their trek.

Alewives are a food source for larger species of fish in both fresh and saltwater, and they are used in the lobster fishery for bait.

According to Upstream’s Facebook page the nonprofit is “dedicated to restoring sea-run fish passage and ecological health to Cobbossee Stream.”

Upstream has been working over the last three years with a group of project stakeholders to create fish passage on Cobbosseecontee Stream. Later this month, for what they’re calling St. Valenfishes Day, it will publish fish passage analysis at both the New Mills and the Gardiner Paperboard dams.

The New Mills Dam on Cobbosseecontee Stream on Wednesday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

At this point in the project, she said, having a letter of support from the city for the state Division of Marine Resources supporting fish passage, particularly in connection with the Cobbossee Trail in putting together funds from both the Department of Transportation and from grants that Upstream would pursue for fish passage at the Gardiner Paperboard dam.

Mayor Patricia Hart said one of the City Council’s concerns has been what the financial obligation for the city would be.

Wood said the Division of Marine Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been taking part in the stakeholder meetings and no obligation from the city is expected.

“The information we’ve received is that fish passage would be paid for through grants and through other private organizations,” Wood said. “That’s what we know about it.”

The outcome of the most recent stakeholders meeting is that the group would help create an adaptive management plan that would work with the Cobbossee watershed district to offer support in reintroducing alewives to the Cobbossee watershed.

“That will be rolled with the Department of Marine Resources,” she said.

Wood said Upstream will be applying for grants on developing engineering plans for fish passage at the Gardiner Paperboard dam.

When that project is underway, Wood said NOAA officials have said there would be money for some access to Cobbosseecontee Stream, either for a park or help with a trail or abutments to cross the stream and connect with the Harrison Avenue nature trail.

“That’s the piece that works very nicely with the Department of Transportation funds of about $1 million to build a trail from under Bridge Street over to Winter Street and up Summer Street,” she said.

The first phase of the Cobbossee Trail construction is being done in conjunction with the Department of Transportation’s bridge replacement project in Gardiner. To date, both the Maine Avenue and Bridge Street bridges have been replaced, leaving some finish work to be carried out later this year. The project includes bringing the trail under the Bridge Street bridge to the intersection of Water and Bridge streets.

The second phase would take the trail upstream toward the railroad trestle.

City officials are facing a deadline of May this year to complete the project; if it’s not done, the federal transportation money the city has received to complete the project will have to be returned.

City officials have requested an extension of that deadline to give them the opportunity to seek private funds to build out the next phase of the trail.

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