Something Fishy This Way Comes……

Posted: 31/03/2008 in Uncategorized
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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…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dan –

    Interesting article, you bring up some interesting points.

    Two things: FPL has never been an arm of CMP or Energy EAst; FPL and CMP are totally separate entities. Their only relationship is that CMP sold FPL their generation.

    Second – It’s my understanding that the fishway on the Fort Halifax site was abandoned because the cost of installing the fishway was way more than the revenue that would have been produced by the dam.

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