Current geopolitical and global economic conditions are resulting in Maine’s businesses and residents feeling the pinch. From the war in Ukraine to continued supply chain disruptions associated with pandemic lockdowns and re-openings, the events of recent months have presented unique challenges to continuing Maine’s economic growth story and to efforts to foster a more equitable and inclusive economy throughout our state. With so much uncertainty stemming from events outside the control of state officials and policymakers, now is not the time for self-inflicted economic harm.

Unfortunately, however, the state’s consideration of the continued operations of the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield suggests such self-imposed consequences are in play.

In short, the Shawmut Dam is relied on by the neighboring Somerset Mill for water intake necessary to operate the mill, and the loss of the dam — or a significant disruption to water levels in the dam’s impoundment — would have the domino effect of risking the closure of one of Maine’s last remaining mills. And yet despite the significance of the dam to the mill, state agencies have pursued unsupported regulatory requirements that could render the dam uneconomic. This has created a cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the dam, the mill, and the employees that are such vital contributors to the local and state economy.

While I have witnessed firsthand that Governor Mills and her Administration are working hard to respond to many needs of Mainers and Maine businesses during this difficult time, we hope that the administration will recognize the significant value the Shawmut Dam has on the economic vitality of the region, and understands and addresses the concerns of the businesses, employees, and communities reliant on the Shawmut Dam and the Somerset Mill. We hope this means having a more streamlined and consistent regulatory process focused on supporting an outcome that more appropriately considers ecological conservation and restoration alongside clean energy production and economic activity.

We know this has been a contested issue with tension on both sides, but we hope individuals will recognize that the existing owner of the dam has operated in good faith and has put forward a solution that helps both sides move closer to achieving their goals. Brookfield Renewable has spent years and millions of dollars working side-by-side with regulatory agencies to develop and permit new fish passage proposals that would greatly improve existing conditions, and has requested the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issue a new license inclusive of these measures. This proposal will protect the dam, the mill, and improve fish passage on the Kennebec River.

Over the next many months, the state will continue to wrestle with significant and unavoidable global economic headwinds. In the case of Shawmut Dam’s relicensing, however, regulatory certainty and leadership from Gov. Mills can ensure we aren’t also fighting economic headwinds of our own making.

Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

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