Central Maine residents will have the opportunity Monday to ask questions about a proposed amendment to the state’s Kennebec River Management Plan that, if approved, could lead to removal of the Lockwood Dam in Waterville and Shawmut Dam in Fairfield, with a goal of  saving endangered Atlantic salmon and making the river healthier.

The virtual public hearing by the Maine Department of Marine Resources to discuss the amendment is scheduled for 3 p.m. Those wanting to attend by telephone or computer (The registration form is available here) must do so by no later than 5 p.m. Sunday.

The public hearing might be continued March 17, also at 3 p.m. and under the same format, if necessary, and the Department of Marine Resources will accept written comments on the proposal until March 27.

The amendment seeks to expand the fish species targeted for restoration in the river to include all of Maine’s native diadromous fish, or those that use both the rivers and ocean.

It also would update descriptions of the physical, biological and ecological conditions in the watershed and revise goals, objectives and actions for restoration in the river and provide reasons for decommissioning and removing dams.

Page 28 of the proposed amendment states Maine supports domestic hydropower as an important component of energy and a renewable source of energy critical to meeting climate goals.

But sources of renewable energy, including hydropower, can still have impacts on the state’s resources.

The report reads, “Due to large impacts on State resources and relatively small generation, the State believes the best approach to meet our management goals for the Kennebec River is to decommission and remove some or all of the dams in the Lower Kennebec.”

The dams affect diadromous fish species and prevent them from reaching all of their available high-quality habitats, according to the report.

“Any potential lost generation at the lower Kennebec projects through a decommissioning and removal could be offset by strategic hydropower enhancements at projects that are not significant fish passage impediments and/or through new clean energy developments,” according to the report.

Miranda Kessel, a spokeswoman for Brookfield Renewable Partners, which owns the dams, has said approving the proposed amendment would lead to dam removal and set a bad precedent. Removing dams would affect residents, businesses and industries along the river, and could affect the amount of money communities receive in taxes from the dams, according to Kessel, who spoke recently to the Waterville City Council.

Brookfield, she said, has a shared goal in ensuring fish and river restoration but an inclusive, transparent approach must be taken and a good faith effort pursued in ensuring balanced outcomes. Dam removal would mean loss of jobs and loss of tax income for Waterville and Winslow, and people who have property along the river would be negatively affected, according to Kessel.

She told Waterville city councilors Feb. 17 that Brookfield plans to improve the fish lift at the Lockwood Dam.

PUSHING FOR APPROVAL

Meanwhile, the Kennebec Coalition, a group of conservation organizations working to restore a healthy Kennebec River, issued information about the upcoming state hearing, stating Atlantic salmon are endangered in the Kennebec because of  “four antiquated dams” between Waterville and Skowhegan, and removing the dam would help save salmon and support economic development and outdoor recreation.

“The removal of the Edwards Dam helped revitalize both the Kennebec River and the City of Augusta,” Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said in the information released to the news media. “Removal of dams upstream from Waterville would bring the same benefits for the river and riverfront communities farther upstream.”

Bucky Owen, former commissioner of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and longtime head of the Wildlife Ecology Department at the University of Maine, played a part in dam removals in the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers.

He called the proposed river plan amendment “a big step in bringing the same ecological, recreational, and economic benefits to the Kennebec above Waterville that have already occurred below Waterville due to the removals of the Edwards and Fort Halifax Dams.”

Kessel claims that the Kennebec Coalition has for 20 years had a goal of removing dams and wants to build momentum to support dam removal based on unrealistic fish passage performance standards.

But the Coalition says that since the Edwards Dam in Augusta and the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow were removed, millions of fish returned to the river below Waterville, but that “is where their travels end — except for a tiny fraction that are trapped and transported in trucks upstream. Sea-run fish still cannot swim above the Lockwood Dam because Brookfield and previous dam owners have failed to live up to their responsibilities under the 1998 agreement.”

The Coalition includes the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Rivers, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited and the Trout Unlimited’s Kennebec Valley Chapter.

Kessel was unsuccessful Feb. 17 in convincing Waterville councilors to oppose the plan to change the state’s current river management plan. They voted 5-2 to table the matter indefinitely, with some councilors saying they needed more information. Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, noted that the council was not discussing whether to remove dams — they were merely discussing the proposed amendment.

Brookfield had approached the city asking that the council oppose the amendment. Waterville City Manager Steve Daly asked Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, to send a representative to the Feb. 17 council meeting to explain the amendment and answer questions. The state had scheduled a public hearing on the amendment to be held earlier that day in Augusta, but that hearing was canceled due to the bad weather, according to Daly.

Sean Ledwin, director of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Division of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, which researches, monitors and works to restore fish species, told councilors the river management plan is really a guidance document to set goals and objectives. The Lockwood and Hydro Kennebec dams, as well as the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield and the Weston Dam in Skowhegan, are the focal area of some of the state’s planning, he said.

Any decisions to take major action such as removing dams would not happen overnight and would take five to 10 years and a lot of input, according to Ledwin. Management plans for all rivers must be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates dams, he said.

Kessel said the proposed Maine Department of Marine Resources amendment would advance dam removal and that would set a concerning precedent for Maine businesses, municipalities and residents, especially given the current economic situation.

The river management plan, adopted in 1993, was developed to guide the restoration of anadromous fish in the river and resulted in removal of the Edwards Dam. The plan sought to restore and enhance populations of shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, striped bass, rainbow smelt, American shad and alewives to the river.

Brookfield is part of the $100 billion Brookfield Asset global venture capital empire based in Toronto and owns 38 dams in Maine. It owns more than 5,300 renewable power-generating stations in 17 countries, the majority of them hydroelectric plants, and makes most of its money selling power to utilities.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.