Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bad Deal for the Presumpscot River

State of Maine says no fish passage at the Gambo Dam until 2036 -- or maybe, ever.

Below is the transcript of March 13, 2008 news story on Maine Public Radio by Murray Carpenter about the Presumpscot River disagreement over the "private" fish passage deal. Hear the MPR radio story here.
The Presumpscot River winds 25 miles from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, but migratory fish have been blocked for most of the system for more than 100 years by a series of dams. Last June, state and federal regulators and representatives of American Rivers, Friends of the Presumpscot River and Sappi Fine Paper signed a so-called settlement framework agreement detailing when and where fish passage will be installed on five Presumpscot River dams.

But the deal is drawing fire. “It is a bad deal overall,” said Roger Wheeler, president of Friends of Sebago Lake. The lake's outlet flows into the Presumpscot, and he would like to see a restored biological connection to the Gulf of Maine. Wheeler says the deal does not go far enough and is frustrated that one of the dams would have no fish passage requirement whatsoever.

“It is not going to help the fish. It is not going to help restore the fishery and it ends any chance in the future of restoring the entire Presumpscot river all the way to Sebago Lake.”

The Cumberland Falls dam, the site of the Sappi mill in Westbrook, is the first obstacle fish encounter swimming up river from Casco Bay.

The deal calls for removing the dam by 2011, after that, fish passage would be phased in the next four Sappi owned dams upriver over the next three decades.

Doug Watts, a member of Friends of Sebago Lake, says the timeline for three of the dams in the agreement is absurdly slow.

“Those dams are only a ten minute drive apart and it is going to take until 2036 to get a fishway at the Gambo Dam. I am going to be dead or in a nursing home before fish can travel about ten miles from Westbrook up to the Gorham/Windham line”

And there is no requirement in the agreement for fish passage at the uppermost of Sappi’s five dams, the Dundee project.

Last spring, the State of Maine decided in secret that native fish will never be allowed to swim past the Dundee Falls Dam to Sebago Lake.

Watts says this is illegal and he points to the State’s precedent setting legal battle over these Presumpscot dams which tie fish passage to water quality standards.

Sappi fought the battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost in 2006.

The Friends of Sebago Lake are also concerned that the agreement was reached last summer without any public comment. When the group complained to the Department of Marine Resources, DMR invited them to a late February public meeting and agreed to accept written public comments for one week through last Friday.

But some conservationists say the agreement makes the best of a tough situation.

“This deal provides the best guaranteed way to return native fish to the Presumpscot.”

Attorney Sean Mahoney of the Consevation Law Foundation negotiated on behalf of American Rivers and Friends of the Presumpscot River.

He says the process was complicated because Cumberland Falls Dam is not a hydro project so conservationist had little leverage to push for fish passage and he does not think fish populations will have recovered enough to require passage at the Dundee Dam during the 50 year term of the agreement.

Sappi is pleased with this settlement according to a statement from a spokesperson and Sandi Cort who serves on the Board of Friends of the Presumpscot River says it will provide a boost for the river's fish.

It would open up the Little River which is the second largest tributary on the Presumpscot early on to fisheries restoration and then other tributaries also, as we move upriver.

Before being implemented it would need approval from the Board of Environmental Protection and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Friends of Sebago Lake say they will continue to fight for more and faster fish passage.

The Department of Marine Resources did not return calls by air-time.

For MPBN news, I am Murray Carpenter.

Friends of Sebago Lake thanks Maine Public Radio reporter Murray Carpenter for doing a fair and thorough job on this story.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Atlantic Salmon photo

43 inch salmon speared on spawning beds of Batchelder Brook, North Sebago in 1907. Historical sources indicate that 1907 was the last year many large salmon inhabitated Sebago Lake. Eel Weir dam was completed about this time. This ended fish passage at the outlet dam. It is high probable this large salmon was a sea run salmon.