Archive for March, 2008

Here in Maine, we have had, historically, two groups at constant loggerheads with each other over the lake and river habitat. For decades now, some environmentalists have wanted to eliminate all of the dams and manmade obstructions on our waterways, and return things to their primal state. Or as close as can be done, at any rate. They also have a habit of trying to prevent people from harvesting the fish species they wish to preserve, whether for sport or commercial harvest.

There seems at times to be little give on either parties part, except for when the outcome meets both of their goals. Within the last couple of decades or so, a great number of dams have been removed from Maine rivers, with the most notable one being the Edwards dam on the Kennebec river. There currently are three projects concerning dams in Maine that I wish to refer to today, and perhaps highlight some of the inconsistencies in the decision making procedures of state officials. And also to bring attention to a strange desire by some environmentalists to squelch a renewable energy source widely available, with very little investment, since it is, in fact, already in place, and running.

The first one in question is a little dam on the Sebasticook River in Augusta. The Fort Halifax dam is currently producing electrical power, even though the owners, Florida Power & Light (FPL), have decided to breach the dam and have it permanently removed. According to FPL spokesman Allen Wiley, the breach is supposed to begin in mid July on the 16th. What strikes me as odd about this one is that several years ago, a plan was sort of hatched on a national basis to begin restoring fish habitat to original status in order to allow various species the ability to migrate back to what are called “ancestral breeding grounds.”

Deals were hatched along both the East and West coasts or the installation of fish ways in the way of various ladders ramps and what not to facilitate this plan. In Maine, various groups worked together to see that this process was finalized and would come to fruition. And in the case of the Fort Halifax dam, a ladder was supposed to have been in place by 2003. FPL, then still very much an arm of CMP through parent corporation Energy East, made the decision that the dam was not profitable. Their decision was to remove the dam itself. The resulting free for all five year saga over whether to keep it or breach it was the result of that decision. According to all the clippings I read on the issue, everyone seemed to be happy with the ladder.

But after lawsuits and appeals the end result is that FPL gets to destroy something that can give us green power. No carbon emissions to squawk about, no undue noise levels nor any pollutants to speak of. So is everybody happy? Just FPL, which is now owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola. One of the drawbacks to breaching the dam as opposed to simply building a fish ladder, the original plan, is that the holding pond, or small lake, developed by the dam after it was built would have eliminated the shorefront value of properties along its banks. Property owners called foul play and appealed the decision to allow the breach to take place.

But the decision was made, and now FPL is patiently waiting, hoping nobody brings up an appeal within the thirty five day period allowed for the filing of any appeals. Of course, the story is much bigger than this and perhaps someday I may delve into the depths of this story. But for now, the fishes in the Kennebec can look forward to a restored playground.

A tale of two dams…..
Two other dam projects bring up some points that really should be addressed in the greater scheme of Maine’s habitat conservation efforts. Of course, both of them involve the migration of fish into hereditary breeding grounds that have been off limits to them because of manmade dams in the rivers. And both of them involve sport fishing groups. On one end of the state, officials had tried to open up a fish ladder to allow the migration of alewives up the St. Croix river to their own spawning grounds. Historically, alewives had free range of the entire river until several dams were built for hydro power. The state wanted to open two of the dams, which both have fish ladders in place already, to the passage of the alewives.

However, in usual political fashion, the plan has changed so that only the lower dam, known as the Woodland Dam, would be opened. The upper dam at Grand Falls will remain closed to the passage of alewives. According to reports, had both dams been opened, a bit over fifty percent of the alewives breeding grounds would have become available to them. With the opening of just the lower Woodland dam, the territory will be less than ten percent of the alewives hereditary spawning grounds.

Another victory by Maine’s environmentalists? Not hardly. This time it was a victory for another special interest group. Mostly the Passamaquoddy Indians, of whom many registered Maine fishing guides belong to. The feeling by the sport fishing community was and is that the alewives disrupt and compete for the smallmouth bass habitat in the upper St. Croix watershed. The alewife would affect the fishing of the guides clients. So the legislature, via the state F&W department decided that the fish ladders would be closed on Grand Falls dam, interfering with the restoration of one species habitat, who have been spawning there for perhaps thousands of year. The smallmouth bass, on the other hand, is an introduced species, not native to Maine. And in fact, there has been no conclusive evidence presented to date that indicates that the alewife actually does harm the smallmouth bass habitat.

The next dam to look at is one I mentioned the other day, located in Harrison, Maine. On the banks of the Crooked River, nestled into one of our Western Maine foothills sits the 160 year old Scribner Mill. The purpose of a group restoring this mill is to develop a working up and down, or sash saw mill as an operating museum and living history center. They’ve come a long way towards their goal, but much remains to be done to achieve the goal.

One of the items to be tended to is the restoration o the water wheel, and the dam to channel water through the sluiceways. But again, another group of sport fishermen are protesting the action. Seems kind of strange that on one hand they want to close the dams to fish passage on the St. Croix, and yet on the little Crooked River they want to prohibit any obstruction at all. We must ask if the end result of these actions is protection or conservation of habitat, or is it to protect their own interests.

Fish ladders have been proven time and again to be more than adequate for the passage of fish over or around obstacles like dams. They have been accepted at the Fort Halifax dam in Augusta and are already in place along the St. Croix River on its dams. The restoration of this Mill/Museum in Harrison is important to all of Maine in many ways. Maine’s heritage as a timber and logging state is fading away. Many young people today have no idea what Maine was like in the 1800’s. The hardships and way of life of the common laborer was far different than it is today.

We need to provide some means of preserving that heritage, and the Scribner Mill Preservation group is striving to do just that. for any member of a sport fishing organization to trivialize the efforts being put forth in Harrison is uncalled for, and in my mind, unsportsmanlike. Sport fishing is an important part of Maine’s recreational economy and likewise should not be trivialized. A means to satisfy the demands and requirements of both sides of the issue exists, and the solution has been proven time and again to be one that works.

The State of Maine should approve the restoration of the Scribner’s Mill dam, with the inclusion of appropriate fish way structures. The Salmon can have their cake, and eat it too. And the cost to the sport fishing industry would be zero dollars, as it would be paid for by other interests. A private non-profit enterprise that holds concern for preservation and restoration of Maine’s vanishing heritage, while at the same time providing for the habitat and passage of the salmon through the proposed fish way to be built with the dam should be applauded and supported for their efforts. These same people that support Maine’s environment also support other aspects of life in Maine as well. Let the dam be built, I say!

And for a few bits of news…

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So, Global Warming is making colder winters?

Another Flame Goes Out In Maine

Posted: 26/03/2008 in Uncategorized
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Another flame dies in Maine. As of now, the sale of novelty lighters have been banned in the great state of Maine. Further enhancing the ill conceived notion that the government will be responsible for us, Baldacci has signed an emergency bill into law, making the legislation effective immediately, instead of having to wait ninety days or more as in regular legislation.

An AP article relates a story concerning how a six year old boy was burned while playing with a novelty lighter, and also how over 5,000 fires per year are started by children under five years old. A good little story, but just brims with questions over the background over this bill. Who came up with the idea? When did they come up with it? And a bunch of others come to mind. What is a novelty lighter, and why should their sale be banned?

A novelty lighter is one of those cheap lighters, cheap as in cheaply made, not cost, that you find on just about any C store sales counter. They come in the full range of figures, ranging from simple designs like a baseball bat, all the way to risqué figures such as naked women. A lot of people don’t like them, and I can’t say as I blame them. Most of them are just another piece of crap you toss money away on. many of them don’t have the same safety features that you’d find on a name brand lighter, like a Bic® has.

But why should they be banned? I can see where the temptation is coming from. They are indeed attractive to little ones. Colorful, and shaped like some of the toys they play with, I can see where they might want to play with one, which would have disastrous consequences, i.e. house fires and such. But should they be banned? You’ve probably already figured out that I don’t support the action, so you already know that my answer is NO!

I believe the ban should not have been made law for a few different reasons, but let’s look at the history behind the idea of the ban. Maine may have been the first STATE to ban the sale of novelty lighters, but is not the first ban. Several bans exist around the country at the community and county level in many jurisdictions.

El Cajon, California was the second city to pass a ban, which has been in effect since September of last year. (’07) Following along on the boot heels of National City, it is still too early to obtain any concrete data to determine whether the ban has had any impact on either of those two cities arson statistics concerning juvenile involvement. Will the ban help reduce fires? It may, but then again, it may not. The issue at question is not fire prevention, but should the lighters be banned. The European Union, (EU) banned the sale of these novelties in 1997, so after a decade of experience, we should be able to tell if an impact has been made from their records. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any statistics for the EU as a whole for that time frame. Different country statistics indicate that the numbers of fires started by juveniles has increased by some percentage points, so it seems that banning the lighters did not accomplish what the ban was supposed to do. Perhaps the number for fires started by lighters has substantially dropped, but as yet I haven’t come across those figures.

When I do, I’ll be sure to update and see whether the bans are really worth having in place as legislation. But why am I against the ban? It all boils down to something called responsibility. I do not have a problem with lighters that look like toys. I know that they are not toys. Since they are only sold to adults in this state, the adults should realize that they are not toys. Well, most of them should. I’ve seen some that I would have doubts about, but that’s a whole other issue.

Parents should be held responsible for their child’s actions. If a parent realizes that consequences are to be had for the way their child acts, the parent would more than likely take better efforts to train the child in proper behavior, right? Most people I know feel that way, even some who tend to be liberal. It’s a parent kinda thing. We raise our kids the best we can, and along the way try to teach them how to behave.

Now, the problem develops here that kids are going to do exactly what you don’t want them to do the first time you turn your back to them. If you have kids, you know exactly what I mean. So why do so many fires start by children playing with matches or lighters? Because little kids who do not know better find them laying around. They know they are not supposed to play with them, and that increases the desire to play with them. What comes to mind here is that TV steak sauce ad where a bunch of guys are cooking steak at a tailgate party. The cook drops some sauce on the grill, looks around and licks the spill off of the hot grill. You know the outcome.

But it is our responsibility to teach our children. Banning novelty lighters will not do that. instead, it places your responsibility onto somebody else’s shoulders, namely the state. In case you are not aware, that is one of the basic precepts of Socialism, lack of personal responsibility. Banning a lighter is not going to reduce the aspect of juvenile fire problems. They will find alternative fire starters.

So let’s take a look at this AP article and see what’s not to like about the story. The story starts out by stating that a boy, Shane St. Pierre, while in a southern Maine store getting sandwiches with his mother picked up a novelty lighter that looked like a toy baseball bat. Of course, the boy played with it and subsequently seared his eyebrow and burned his skin. No big surprise there, a little kid plays with fire and gets burned. I think it’s one of the laws of nature. There is absolutely no reason for a six year old to be playing with a lighter.

So where was the child when this affair took place? According to the AP article, the store was in southern Maine, which of course it wasn’t. it was actually at an unnamed store in Livermore. I’d call that western Maine in my atlas. Well, he and his mother were in the store to pick up some sandwich’s. this tells me it was a convenience type of store. All of those stores have their lighter displays up on a counter where adults will be conned into buying them. Hard to get to by a six year old I would think. Especially one with his mother. Unless she wasn’t there. So where was she when this little kid picked up the lighter? Was she ignoring her child in a public place where almost anything could have happened to him?

If it were my child, I would have been paying close attention just for that reason. The mother should have known better. And she probably did, since her husband, Norm St. Pierre is the fire chief for West Paris. Who also happens to be the President of the National Association Of Fire Marshalls. Which happens to be an organization driving a nationwide initiative to get the lighters banned. Seems kind of odd to me that the six year old child of a person in that position should be playing with a lighter. Especially in a C store with no mother around paying attention to him.

Another thing that bothers me about this type of legislation is that it was passed as an emergency law, meaning that there was no public debate, and no time to appeal or seek redress from its affects. In many places around the world where Socialism is the way of life, these sorts of thing are not only common, they are to be expected. Freedom is on the endangered species list, and states such as Maine and California are leading us down the path towards government domination.

I firmly believe that one of the key components of democracy and its success is the aspect of personal responsibility. Socialism cannot survive where any sense of that responsibility exists. When laws are passed removing the burden of personal responsibility from the individual and places it upon the shoulders of government through regulation, we lose a piece of that freedom. Eventually, we become blind to that responsibility and learn that it is indeed easier to let somebody else shoulder the blame. And eventually, we become a slave to our servants.

And a bit of news…..

Bits of News…

Posted: 25/03/2008 in Uncategorized
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Bowdoin College

What with the World Water Day just passed and all, there seems to be a flurry of water related articles floating around. Many areas are covered, such as surface pollution, acid rain, well contamination and so forth. So to think that there is anything new under the sun would be ridiculous, correct? Well, not really so. One of the big stories making the rounds is the Fort Halifax dam on the Sebasticook river. The planned breach has been a long time in the making, and has finally arrived. Barring any legal challenges Iberdrola, under the name of FPL, should be starting the project by June, Or so I have read in several of the articles.

For those of you from away that may be reading this, the Fort Halifax dam is a one hundred year old hydro power generation project that seems to have outlived its profitable usefulness. It is located in Augusta, on the Sebasticook river, near the original Fort Halifax historical site. The dam itself is a rather unprepossessing structure, and years ago, when the row over fish migration parked its butt on the Kennebec watershed, the state of Maine actually wanted the owners to install a fish way of some sort to allow Atlantic Salmon to migrate to their ancestral spawning grounds higher up the Sebasticook.

The structure is still a viable generating station, which makes me wonder why FPL wants to destroy it by breaching the dam itself. FPL claims that its operation is no longer profitable. In light of the increased attention on alternative power generation, I would think that they would rather keep the dam intact, and in operable condition. Over the last couple of decades or so, dozens of dams in Maine have been decommissioned and breached, severely restricting our ability to produce power when needed, and forcing Maine to become dependent on outside sources for our electrical needs.


One thing that is new, but not so new, in this dam war Maine seems to be having has to do with a nationally recognized historical site in Harrison Maine called Scribner’s Mill. Last year they put forth a request to the state of Maine’s DEP to rebuild the dam across the Crooked River, and build a fish way to allow the salmon in the Sebago watershed to migrate upstream to their own ancestral spawning grounds.

Understandably, the fly fishing enthusiasts are opposed to this project as it will in fact change the lay of the river as it now runs. According to Lee Goldsmith, (Welcome to Lee’s Fishing Page), “Unlike most salmon waters in the region, salmon production in the Crooked River system contributes a significant number of wild fish to the Sebago Lake fishery (ranging from 20% to 70%, depending on stocking levels).” That could be a lot of salmon for these fishermen. But the figure 20% to 70 %, depending on stocking levels is pretty broad. I’d like to see some ironclad figures as to what the actual numbers of fish that could be bred in the areas upstream of Scribner’s Mill would be. Percentages sound like some good numbers, but oftentimes are used to persuade, or dissuade a person’s opinions. I prefer to deal in real numbers.

So exactly what is Scribner’s Mill anyway. The mill is one of the only remaining sawmills in Maine that was operated as a sash saw throughout its lifetime. And it always ran through direct hydraulic power, as opposed to many mills that used circular and bands saws, and converted to electrical power after 1900. Scribner’s Mill Preservation, an organization devoted to restoring the mill and developing a living history museum with it see the need to rebuild this dam and tailrace to provide power to the waterwheel that runs the saw and other equipment.

I’ve done some photography up there, and have spoken with most of the people involved in the effort, and I am convinced that the project should be completed, and completed with the water wheel installed in working condition. There are a couple of reasons behind my support of this project. One of them is that there seems to be a great lack of knowledge about Maine’s real historical past. There are few places around the state that actually can give a person a hands on experience and taste of what life was like way back when.

The Scribner Mill is an excellent opportunity for the people of Harrison to have something they can be proud of in their community that celebrates the past. Augusta has Fort Halifax and the Maine State Museum. Patten has the Lumberman’s Museum. Kennebunk has the Seashore Trolley Museum. But you see what I am getting at here. We have an opportunity to create an outlet to our history, and at the same time, provide another reason for tourists to visit the area. We talk about how important tourism is to the state of Maine, but how much do we really do to promote it.

The Scribner’s Mill group holds an event on the first weekend of August every year that just keeps growing. More and more people are being attracted to the event, and that helps to bring income to the Harrison area. Just think of what it could evolve into after a few more years! Imagine Maine hosting an attraction similar ti Old Plimoth and Old Sturbridge in Massachusetts.

Various sporting agencies tout the fishing, hunting, camping, skiing and other opportunities for recreation, but we really need to diversify our offerings to have any real impact on this source of income. So at this point, we need to decide on a course of action here. We could say that a fish way was sufficient for the Fort Halifax dam in Augusta, so why isn’t one acceptable on the crooked river for the Scribner’s Mill dam? The dam would be practically new from the ground up, so it is something that could easily be incorporated in the design. And perhaps the dam could be designed so that the holding pond could be drained during the off season when this exhibit would not be in operation. I don’t claim to be anywhere near as smart as a qualified engineer, but I’m confident that an accord can be reached that will allow the dam to be built, and at the same time allow passage of spawning salmon to the higher stream beds upriver.

Another aspect to consider is that with the creation of the holding pond, which if I understand correctly will be about eleven acres, will also be another opportunity to develop new fishing opportunities. Imagine tourists visiting the mill and museum exhibits, learning about Maine’s sawmill history, and afterwards relaxing for a while, fishing in the mill pond after buying licenses from a local vendor, and supplies and bait at the same time. It isn’t often opportunities come along like this one. It would be a shame to waste it because the fishing clubs have conflicting priorities with the historic preservationists.

If you’d like to learn more about the Scribner Mill, or the supporting organization, please visit them at http://www.scribnersmill.org/. Perhaps you’d like to help them out as well, and make a donation to their efforts in preserving Maine’s heritage.