For more than 50 years I have been a resident of Benton, Maine. I am a Republican, and a retired selectman and town treasurer. I am concerned for the health of all Maine waters and, especially, the Kennebec River. As Benton’s Alewife Warden I observe effective fish passage benefitting people and wildlife in the Sebasticook River.

As I write this, I am getting ready for the spring alewife run, as usual at this time of year. This is an incredible migration made possible by the removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax dams. The alewife run provides a substantial and consistent revenue stream for Benton, much-needed local bait for the lobster industry, and a smorgasbord for fish-eating wildlife. Along the Sebasticook River in the spring, bald eagles gather in greater concentrations than anywhere else on the east coast, and seals swim from the ocean all the way to Benton to feast on alewives.

This is the way Maine’s rivers should be: alive and productive. It is why I find Brookfield Renewable’s behavior at its four dams between Waterville and Skowhegan so abhorrent. Fish still can’t swim above the Lockwood Dam in Waterville more than 20 years after a settlement agreement among dam owners, resource agencies, and citizen groups promised that dam owners would “rapidly assist” in the restoration of native fish above Waterville. Instead of passing fish, Brookfield pushed a bill during this legislative session to make it impossible for Maine agencies to do their jobs to require fish passage at dams. I testified against the bill.

I find even the title of the bill, “An Act to Sustain Good-paying Jobs in the Forest Products Industry by Ensuring Consistency between Comprehensive River Resource Management Plans and State Water Quality Standards,” misleading and offensive. I find the convoluted text of the bill typical of the worst of legislative jargon. Brookfield was clearly pushing the Maine Legislature to pass a bill that would gut our enforcement of the Federal Clean Water Act, which Maine has accepted and embraced for 50 years.

The bill’s passage would have tied into knots any effort to restore the Kennebec and other rivers after 200 years of industrial use. It would have mired efforts to restore salmon and other sea-run fish above Waterville in foolish legal wrangling until the fish are extinct and so, perhaps, are all of us. I remember when the Kennebec swam with dioxins and other wastes, when we crossed three Fairfield bridges with eyes averted, holding our breaths to stanch the stench. The only beneficiaries of this proposed legislation would have been Brookfield — and a hundred lawyers, gleefully profiting as they contrive sense from this 400-word long nonsense of plans and rules.

Sen. Muskie must have been rolling in his grave, in this, the 50th anniversary year of the passage of his Clean Water Act

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I am grateful to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee for standing up to Brookfield and amending this bill, but Brookfield is still conniving. The measures the company has proposed to protect critically endangered Atlantic salmon on the Kennebec during the migration season that started on April 1 are inadequate.

What Brookfield really needs to do is sell its four dams, which are not a big source of electrical generation (for perspective, Brookfield’s Harris and Wyman dams each provide about twice as much electricity as all four of the lower Kennebec dams combined) and do more harm than good.

I am certain that the people, fish and wildlife of the Kennebec region would benefit greatly from a settlement like that on the Penobscot where conservation groups purchased and removed two dams and decommissioned and bypassed a third. I am certain that there are both public and private funds available to make the Kennebec a global river restoration success like the Penobscot, including funds to move municipal and industrial in-river infrastructure.

Maine deserves better from this company that owns so much of our hydropower and that benefits enormously from exploiting our rivers. It is not too much to ask the company to sell these four dams at a fair price to bring the Kennebec back to life.

Richard Lawrence is a resident of Benton.


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