The Lockwood Dam on the Kennebec River is shown Monday in Waterville. The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce held a news conference nearby the dam outside the Hathaway Creative Center to release a report on the economic benefits of the four dams on the Kennebec extending north from Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce on Monday released an economic analysis that determined the four regional dams on the Kennebec River, and the two paper mills that rely on them, contribute to more than 1,200 jobs that provide employee earnings of $158.5 million.

The 12-page analysis was commissioned by the chamber and conducted by Camoin Associates, a firm based in Saratoga Springs, New York, that specializes in economic development consulting services. It found the jobs associated with the four dams extending from Waterville to Skowhegan make up almost 4% of the jobs in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

It also found the dams and paper mills paid almost $8.9 million in property taxes last year. The largest portion of that went to Skowhegan, with nearly $6.8 million, and Waterville had the next largest amount at just more than $792,000.

Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kimberly L. Lindlof fields questions from reporters Monday while standing near the Lockwood Dam on the Kennebec River in Waterville. The chamber released an economic analysis on the impact dams have along the Kennebec. Pictured with Lindlof is Joy McKenna, chairwoman of the board for the chamber. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The dams that were the focus of the analysis — the Lockwood, Hydro Kennebec, Weston and Shawmut — have been the subject of ongoing debate as the owner, Brookfield Renewable, a subsidiary of $600 billion Ontario-based global asset company Brookfield Asset Management, navigates a complicated federal relicensing process. Environmental and conservation groups argue more must be done to allow the endangered Atlantic salmon and other river-run fish to swim past the dams to reach spawning grounds.

The Shawmut Dam creates the reservoir that serves the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan. Representatives from Sappi have said that if the dam is removed, it would lower the water level 15 to 20 feet, making it too low for the mill to use.

The Shawmut has become a political flashpoint in the race between Gov. Janet Mills and her challenger, former Gov. Paul LePage. The analysis was released during a news conference held by the Mid-Maine Chamber outside the Hathaway Creative Center near the Lockwood Dam in Waterville. Chamber President and CEO Kimberly Lindlof said the study’s findings were released this week because “we wanted to get it out before the election.”


Mills stated last year the closure of the Sappi mill was unacceptable, and a spokewoman for her office reaffirmed that in an email Monday.

Mills believes it’s not necessary to remove the Shawmut Dam in order to allow fish to pass through, spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said.

“There are good options to achieve fish passage goals without adverse impacts to the mill,” Crete said. “The governor has also been clear that her support for the Sappi Mill is steadfast and unwavering.”

LePage tweeted last week that the removal of Shawmut Dam and any resulting adverse impact on Sappi was unacceptable. He claimed Mills was putting jobs at risk “to pursue an extreme environmental policy.”

The second paper mill cited in the analysis was the Huhtamaki plant that extends from Waterville into Fairfield.

Environmental groups say the dams are doing irreparable damage to native fish species that migrate up and down the river. Earlier this year, the national conservation group American Rivers said that the 15 dams Brookfield operates around the state — including the four on the Kennebec — are hastening the extinction of Atlantic salmon, an already endangered species in the United States.


Part of the difficulty in restoring the fish migration up the Kennebec River is the outsize impact the dams have on the area, said Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, a nonprofit that works to restore fish passage in Maine rivers and streams for sea-run fish by removing dams and installing fish ladders.

Hudson said she had not had a chance to read the analysis, but that it was important to have these discussions and obtain reliable facts and consider any assumptions that are going into the data.

The dams create large impoundments, where water is flat and has no current, which makes it difficult for fish to navigate upstream, Hudson said. Technological advancements like fish ladders still can’t help with restoration of the river’s broader ecosystem. And efforts in southern New England have shown that those fixes have not been successful, particularly with Atlantic salmon, she said.

“It requires more thinking about how to have healthy rivers, how to have connections between headwaters and the Gulf of Maine, and trying to restore and maintain the ecological health of our fisheries, because it’s not just fish in the water — it’s about having healthy rivers that support insect life, bird life, other creatures in the Gulf of Maine — a whole ecological web of life,” Hudson said.

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