Fishing

4 dams, the way forward for Kennebec fish runs and salmon’s survival at stake in federal licensing battle

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

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

Whereas Maine and the world have been centered on the pandemic, a combat over the way forward for Maine’s second largest river system is raging contained in the digital docket of an obscure federal relicensing continuing.

At stake within the drawn-out proceedings earlier than the Federal Power Regulatory Fee relating as to if and beneath what phrases to relicense a 106-year-old dam that stretches throughout the river between Benton and Fairfield are the destiny of river-run fish within the Kennebec River watershed and fairly presumably that of Atlantic salmon in the US.

FERC regulates dams, which generally begin with a 50-year license. A dam’s proprietor – usually an organization looking for to provide income by way of the era of electrical energy – then should apply for permission to resume its license for an additional 30 to 50 years, a course of the company carries out in session with the states, the general public and different federal businesses, which can ask for sure phrases to be met by the dam proprietor.

“This is a great opportunity to have meaningful restoration and millions of sea-run fish in the lower Kennebec,” says Sean Ledwin, director of the ocean run fisheries and habitat division at Maine’s Division of Marine Sources, which recommends eradicating the dam between Benton and Fairfield. “We don’t generally recommend dam removals, but if we don’t get this right it’s unlikely that we can recover Atlantic salmon in the United States.”

Maine has been a nationwide chief within the restoration of river programs and the sea-run fish that spawn in them. With the elimination of Augusta’s Edwards Dam on the decrease Kennebec in 1999 and the Nice Works and Veazie dams within the decrease Penobscot in 2012 and 2013, alewives, shad, blueback herring and salmon had entry to 1000’s of miles of river habitat for the primary time because the early nineteenth century. The alewife run into the Sebasticook, a tributary of the Kennebec made accessible by dam removals, is now the most important in the US, with practically 6 million fish, and a favourite bald eagle eating web site.

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

Now consideration has turned to the Sandy River, the place salmon and shad would discover prime habitat had been it not for 4 Canadian-owned dams blocking their method: Hydro Kennebec and Lockwood in Waterville, the Weston dam close to Skowhegan, and the dam in between that’s presently beneath evaluate for FERC relicensing, the Shawmut venture. Conservationists and Gov. Janet Mills’ administration need no less than one in every of them eliminated, however proprietor Brookfield Renewable argues that constructing or enhancing fish passages will do the trick whereas persevering with to supply clear energy.

The dams are medium measurement by Maine requirements. Shawmut is a 19-foot-tall concrete dam with two powerhouses and extends 1,500 toes throughout the Kennebec. Lockwood, positioned on the Ticonic Falls in central Waterville, is 17 toes excessive and 875 toes lengthy, and was in-built 1919 to generate energy for the Lockwood textile mill.

The negotiations have dragged on for years and are occurring similtaneously separate federal processes relating to the safety of endangered species (the salmon on this case) and water high quality requirements (over which states have quite a lot of affect). They’ve been acrimonious at occasions, as when an unbiased engineering examine submitted to FERC by Brookfield was present in November 2019 to have been pruned of sections that undermined the corporate’s place. And so they’re difficult by the truth that whereas the standard of fish passage in any respect 4 dams must be considered if the fish runs are to thrive, solely Shawmut’s license is presently up for its 30- to 50-year renewal.

“You can’t just look at Shawmut in this context, you have to look at Lockwood and Hydro Kennebec below it and Weston above it because if we don’t get salmon into the Sandy it’s a problem, because that’s where all the habitat is,” says Jeff Reardon of Trout Limitless, the game fish advocacy group. As a result of the Kennebec is believed needed for the salmon’s long-term survival in the US, he provides, the destiny of the fish is tied up within the destiny of the dams.

Brookfield Renewable Companions, a part of the $100 billion Brookfield Asset international enterprise capital empire primarily based in Toronto, owns 38 dams throughout Maine and has argued that fish runs can thrive by retrofitting, not eradicating, the dams. Brookfield Renewable owns greater than 5,300 renewable power-generating stations in 17 international locations, the vast majority of them hydroelectric crops, and makes most of its cash promoting energy to utilities.

“Through accurate design and engineering and an estimated investment of $22 million, we will put in place the proper facilities and implement the right procedures to ensure fish movement on the Kennebec,” the corporate, whose U.S. places of work are in New York Metropolis, mentioned in a press release. “These facilities provide many benefits to the people of Maine and these communities in terms of recreation, flood protection, climate resiliency, cultural and historical significance, $2.2 million in annual tax revenue, family-sustaining wages, power generation and more.”

Spokesman Andy Davis mentioned in an interview that the corporate had been methodically learning the most effective engineering options for the 4 dams, which generate a complete of 46.9 megawatts of energy, sufficient to produce 37,000 properties and representing about 3 % of the state’s renewable electrical energy. “These and other dams in Maine have been there for decades and centuries and we are going to use science and engineering to make sure there are solutions for everyone and everything, for people and for fish,” he mentioned. “We’ve done it in other places and we think there’s a way to do it here.”

However state officers and conservationists are skeptical that engineered options alone can do the trick and argue that Shawmut – which generates simply 8.6 megawatts of energy – must be dismantled altogether, and doubtless additionally Lockwood, which generates 6.6 megawatts. Eradicating the dams would enhance the percentages a fish will make it by way of the fish bypasses within the ones that stay, they argue, and enhance environmental circumstances within the stretches of the river which have served as impoundments for the dams.

“It would be really unfortunate to have Atlantic salmon recovery in the entire U.S. be precluded because we couldn’t take a look at removing a few projects that have really minimal energy contributions to the state,” DMR’s Ledwin says.

Some scientists additionally imagine restoring fish runs might assist rebuild inshore shares of fish like cod and haddock that used to feed on them. Ted Ames, a fisherman-turned-researcher, gained a MacArthur Basis genius fellowship in 2005 for his work highlighting the connection.

“We need to have the Gulf of Maine rebuilding its food web; we need to have rivers sending billions and billions of young fish out into the ocean for species like cod,” says Landis Hudson, government director of the conservation group Maine Rivers. “To my mind Brookfield has not been a helpful partner in our long and painful efforts to improve the health of the Kennebec and reconnect its broken habitat fragments.”

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

The Kennebec River and Shawmut Dam are seen from the River Highway in Benton on Tuesday afternoon. Jeff Pouland/Employees Photographer

The Lockwood dam in Waterville, the primary of the dams the fish encounter, has a notoriously dangerous fish bypass that, even when it attracts fish, ends with them being loaded on a truck and pushed farther upriver. Final 12 months solely 180 shad discovered their method into the bypass and 44 the 12 months earlier than, which strikes retired sixth-grade science trainer and leisure fisherman Willie Grenier as insufficient.

Grenier, who lives in Waterville, says he usually fishes for shad under the Lockwood dam in springtime, typically with a visitor, and that every particular person fishing from his boat invariably catches 30 or extra of the migratory fish in just a few hours. “If I stayed all day fishing, I could catch 200 without a doubt,” he says. “After 30 I’ve usually had enough.”

Hydro Kennebec, additionally in Waterville simply upriver from Lockwood, has a just lately constructed $14 million fishway that presumably will permit the fish to cross, although DMR in its filings to FERC notes that this stays unproven as long as Lockwood blocks the best way. Shawmut, the following of the dams, has what DMR describes as “significant uncertainty regarding the ability to effectively pass fish at required standard.”

Brookfield emphasizes the significance of holding Maine’s hydropower capability intact to assist it meet its bold local weather change targets, which embody Gov. Mills’ aim of turning into carbon-neutral – having web zero carbon emissions – by 2045. However the Pure Sources Council of Maine, which champions local weather change motion, backs decommissioning of no less than among the dams.

“These four dams only generate a small amount of power but are causing enormous harm to the Kennebec and the endangered Atlantic salmon that depend on a healthy river to survive,” says Pete Didisheim, the group’s advocacy director. “The benefits for the fish, wildlife and communities along the Kennebec would be historic if these structures were removed and the river could run free again.”

The timeline for a last determination stays unclear, although it might be some years but. FERC rejected Brookfield’s proposed last species safety plan for the dams on July 13 and, on Dec. 2, set a deadline for a brand new plan for Might 31, 2022.

Brookfield, for its half, says it’s dedicated to secure and efficient fish passage on the dams. It’s learning how one can enhance the bypass at Lockwood and intends to begin development on a brand new passage at Shawmut. “Do you want to make a smart investment or a quick investment?” asks spokesman Davis. “The extensions we’ve sought and were granted so we could get the right way to do this stuff.”


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