A Fairfield man casts a fly into a pool in the Kennebec River below the Shawmut dam. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel, file

The Fairfield Town Council unanimously agreed to send a letter to the Maine Department of Marine Resources expressing “substantial concerns” about the potential removal of the Shawmut Dam.

An amendment to the Kennebec River Management Plan calls for the removal of up to four dams including the Shawmut, which is currently going through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC relicensing process. Fairfield’s five-member council all signed off on the letter, which is being sent to the Marine Resources department before the Saturday deadline for public comment.

“As the elected officials for the Town of Fairfield, we make these comments keeping in mind who it is that we represent,” the letter states. “We will not argue the importance of fish in our rivers or the importance of their ability to access their assumed natural habitat. That is for the biologist(s) and engineers. We do, however, have substantial concerns about the financial impact and societal well-being on our community should the Shawmut Dam be removed.”

The Waterville City council voted last week to support the state’s plan. The Winslow Town Council voted earlier this week in opposition. The proposal to amend the state’s Kennebec River Management Plan includes the possible removal of the Shawmut, the Weston Dam in Skowhegan and the Lockwood and Hydro Kennebec Dams in Waterville. All the dams are owned by Brookfield Renewable Partners.

The plan includes the Department of Marine Resources’ requirement for dam owners to improve fish passage to allow more fish to spawn up river. Brookfield Renewable does not believe the new standards are possible.

Republican state Senators Brad Farrin of Norridgewock and Scott Cyrway of Benton received a letter from the Department of Marine Resources stating the plan and the changes called for in the amendment were merely guidance, but FERC said the plan held more weight.

Sean Ledwin, Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Division director for the Department of Maine Resources, said in an email earlier this week that the department will review all written comments and respond to them for the record. The department also plans on seeking advice and consent from the Marine Resources Advisory Council.

“The Department would then finalize the rule, which is an executive branch action,” Ledwin wrote. “The rulemaking process is a State process only and does not involve the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This plan is not legally enforceable and is intended as guidance. The Department does intend to submit the final plan to FERC, which they will consider along with many other pieces of information, in their deliberations regarding hydropower licensing and conditions.”

The Fairfield Council’s letter says they believe the department’s statement that the dam removal’s would have no financial impact is “disheartening and false.” Brookfield Renewable’s assets contribute $17.4 million in value to the town of Fairfield, including $389,000 tax dollars annually and quarterly sewer fees. Fairfield would have to sell nearly 195,000 fishing licenses to make up the loss.

“In contrast to other dam removal projects in the state, this region’s economy and associated industries are uniquely reliant on the multiple benefits area dams provide from a tax revenue, job and local gross domestics product creation perspective,” the letter says. “Furthermore, MDMR fails to recognize the associated impacts to the town’s socio-economic well-being with some of the region’s largest employers.”

The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which is involved with businesses across the region, also does not support the plan. Their board of directors unanimously approved a testimony shared with local and state government.

“While the 2020 Amendment sets forth a rationale for dam decommissioning and removal, the amendment neglects to recognize negative fiscal externalities and ignores projected direct and indirect impacts to area businesses, residents, and municipal governments,” the chamber’s statement reads. “Likewise, the 2020 Amendment does not provide a review of the fiscal effects, including fiscal impacts related to loss of municipal tax revenues and industry cost increases resulting from the potential of dam removal.”

Fairfield’s council wrote that they recognize there are cases where dam removal may provide benefits, but removing the Shawmut is not one of them.

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