Preserving Environment, Preserving History

Posted: 24/03/2008 in Uncategorized
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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.

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