The 170-mile long Kennebec River starts at Moosehead Lake and flows to the Atlantic Ocean. The Winslow Council voted to send a letter to the Maine Department of Marine Resources opposing a proposal that could remove four dams, including the Lockwood Dam in the foreground and the Hydro Kennebec Dam in the distance. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

The Winslow Town Council finalized an official statement opposing an amendment to the state’s Kennebec River Management Plan that could remove four dams along the river.

The council voted 6-1 to approve and send the statement during a special meeting held virtually Tuesday evening. Council chairperson and District 4 Councilor Ray Caron was the lone dissenter.

Addressed to Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Services, the letter outlines the town government’s official stance on the issue. At the crux is “very real potential for an economic ripple effect” should the dams be decommissioned.

“In addition to the potential impact to our taxpayers, local residents are employed by both the dams and other large businesses that rely upon the water features resulting from the dams,” the letter says. “Local contractors supply the goods and services utilized by these entities.”

Winslow Town Manager Erica LaCroix drafted the letter in which the council approved. It was posted on the town’s website and social media pages before the meeting.

Four written public comments were in opposition to the dam removals, one was for it.

“The letter mirrors concerns of our neighboring communities in Skowhegan, Fairfield, Madison and Norridgewock,” LaCroix said. “Those are the communities that will be primarily affected.”

The Waterville City Council last week voted to support the state’s plan. Mayor Jay Coelho initially planned on vetoing the vote but changed his mind. The Fairfield Town Council will vote on its statement Wednesday night, according to Town Manager Michelle Flewelling.

The proposal to amend the state’s Kennebec River Management Plan includes possibly removing the Lockwood Dam and Hydro Kennebec Dam in Waterville owned by Brookfield Renewable Partners to allow endangered Atlantic salmon opportunity to spawn upriver. The proposal also could mean the removal of two other dams, the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield and Weston Dam in Skowhegan.

The letter says that the Lockwood and Hydro Kennebec Dams represent $642,256 in annual tax revenue. The letter also states concern about the impact of properties that line the river, including businesses along U.S. Route 201 and Lithgow Street.

There is a March 27 deadline for public comment on the project, which is why Winslow held a special meeting. The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting was not until April.

The amendment proposed by the Department of Marine Services hopes to expand fish species targeted for restoration of the river to include all of the state’s fish that live in both rivers and ocean. The amendment would update the descriptions of the physical, biological and ecological conditions in the watershed and revise future plans in regards to river restoration and dam removal. Dam removal would not happen immediately, as it would take a number of years.

LaCroix previously said during a virtual public hearing with the Maine Department of Marine Resources earlier this month that the town could lose more than $600,000 if the hydro dams were removed. LaCroix also expressed concern at the public hearing about the impact on those with property along the river. She said it was unusual for her to question a proposal like this because she is environmentally conscious and would like to see the river restored. However, as a town manager, there is a priority given to the impacts on town residents and taxpayers.

LaCroix said earlier this week all dams that are part of the amendment impact Winslow. The letter also discusses the 2008 Fort Halifax Dam on the Sebasticook River, which impacted six homes and the relocation of graves from a historic cemetery.

“The total cost to the Town, not including lost tax revenue, was calculated at $1.1 Million,” the letter states.

The letter also questions the idea of fiscal impacts being outweighed by any waterfront investment and tourism. The Winslow side of the Kennebec River does not have much development and Fort Halifax Park is the only community area on the river.

“We all value the native diadromous fish that navigate the Kennebec, and none of us favor extinction as an acceptable cost of doing business,” the letter says. “However, this amendment neglects to recognize potential negative fiscal outcomes and ignores probable impacts to area businesses, residents, and municipal governments. Likewise, there has been no review of fiscal impacts, including those related to loss of municipal tax revenues and industry cost increases as a result of dam decommissioning and removal.”

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