Owner of Kennebec River dam rejects state fish passage plan as counterproductive

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The Canadian conglomerate that owns most of Maine’s dams argues in regulatory filings released Thursday that the Mills administration’s preferred solutions for rehabilitating fish runs in the Kennebec River will be counterproductive and risk shutting down a paper mill.

Brookfield Renewable Power, a subsidiary of Ontario-based $600 billion global asset company Brookfield Asset Management, has made claims in documents filed with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which plans to authorize the renewal of the federal license of the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield to operate for the next half-century.

He said there was no evidence that a fish pass proposed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources would be effective in helping endangered Atlantic salmon and other river fish pass through the dam to reach their spawning grounds. “On the contrary, there is evidence that a nature-like fishway will be counter-productive for fish passage at Shawmut to (Brookfield’s) proposal for a fish lift,” the filing said.

“We want to make sure that all decisions made on the lower Kennebec River are well thought out and evidence-based,” Brookfield, Maine spokesman David Heidrich said in a statement outlining the proposal. switches to DMR’s fishes as “madness” and “rushed and rushed”. incomplete.”

The company’s filing is the latest development in a deadly battle on multiple fronts over the future of fish migrations in one of Maine’s largest river systems and the survival of America’s last Atlantic salmon populations. The fight has pitted Brookfield — which has 38 hydroelectric dams in Maine and 5,300 worldwide — against national and state environmental and conservation groups and the Mills administration, who want four dams in the lower Kennebec removed to allow salmon to reach primary spawning habitat in western Maine. River of sand.

Asked for a response, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said by email that the department was committed to protecting Sappi’s fish and factory. “We believe these goals are not mutually exclusive and that they can both be achieved through cooperative work,” Keliher said. “We reject the alarmism employed by those, like Brookfield, who falsely attempt to assert otherwise.”

“Maine has a long and proud history of ensuring our critical industries can operate in tandem with our environment, and DMR is working toward that end,” he said. “We again urge Brookfield to work in good faith with the state and other stakeholders to achieve a constructive solution that works for all parties.”

Jeffrey Reardon of conservation group Trout Unlimited said via email that the company was trying to frame the issue around one dam and one species when in reality it’s about the cumulative effects of four dams on the salmon, river herring, gaspereau, shad and other rivers. – run fish trying to reach the Sandy.

“It’s really disappointing to see Brookfield – again – focused on just one fish run at the Shawmut Dam,” he said. “A narrow focus on the question of Brookfield’s proposed fish lift versus a hypothetical nature-like fishway is a distraction from what really matters – getting fish upstream and downstream beyond the four dams.”

Heidrich, the Brookfield spokesman, said the company focused on the Shawmut in the filing because the proceedings at DMR were about that dam.

“Brookfield has spent years and millions of dollars working side-by-side with regulatory agencies to develop and license new fish passage proposals that would significantly improve existing conditions,” Heidrich said via email, adding that it wasn’t the company’s fault that the restoration was taking so long. “Unfortunately, the series of lawsuits, filings and political campaigns by certain organizations has significantly slowed the pace of regulatory approvals, pushing back the implementation and installation of fish passage infrastructure at the tip of technology.”

The Maine DEP has the authority to effectively block the new federal Shawmut Dam license by not issuing a required water quality certificate, which would force the closure and removal of the dam. The state must make its decision on whether to issue the certification and under what conditions by October.

SAPPI KEY MILL

The Mills administration argued that one or more of Kennebec’s lower weirs should be removed to allow fish to reach the Sandy more easily, but also indicated that they did not want to do anything that might jeopardize Sappi’s Somerset Mill at Skowhegan, which relies on water pumped from the reservoir created by the Shawmut Dam.

“The closure of this factory and the resulting ripple effect in the industry, including job losses, would not be acceptable to me – and I will not allow that to happen,” the company said. Governor Janet Mills. wrote in a public letter to Sappi employees last August. “My administration’s commitment to the plant is clear and unwavering.

DMR proposed that Brookfield install a nature-like fishway at Shawmut, similar to those the company has installed and promoted at two dams on the Oswegatchie River in upstate New York. Brookfield claims that such a fishway would be prohibitively expensive to Shawmut, and in the latest filing asked the DEP to allow them to build a modern fishlift instead.

The struggle for the dams was murderous.

In September, the Conservation Law Foundation and three Maine conservation groups sued Brookfield in federal court for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act at the four dams. Conservation groups say Brookfield has been killing Atlantic salmon in its dams on the Kennebec River in violation of the law since Dec. 31, 2019, when its federal permits to kill salmon expired. In February, a judge ruled the case could proceed and ordered the parties to prepare for trial in early July.

Brookfield retaliated later in September with a separate lawsuit in state court alleging the Maine Department of Environmental Protection violated a binding 1998 water management agreement with the company. He argued that the Department of Marine Resources could not work with other state government agencies to develop their positions, a position that Mills’ office dismissed as “without merit” and “a disappointing display of the the company’s continued reluctance to partner with the State of Maine to address this serious issue.

A judge dismissed that complaint on technical grounds, but the company said it intended to appeal. Brookfield again raised his legal theory that DMR cannot advise the DEP on dams in his latest filing.

FEDERAL STUDY DUE IN 2023

In late November, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced it would conduct a new environmental impact study for the four dams, a decision conservation groups have long sought. The federal agency – which reviews and grants dam permits – said it would release a draft of the new study in August and a final version in February 2023.

In April, a national conservation group, American Rivers, named Maine’s Kennebec, Union and other salmon rivers among its list of the nation’s most endangered, largely because of the presence of Brookfield-owned dams. “The future of Atlantic salmon now hangs in the balance,” the group’s river restoration director, Jessie Thomas-Blate, said at the time. “If we don’t address the harmful effects of these dams, we will lose these iconic fish forever.”

Maine has been a national leader in restoring river systems and the marine fish that spawn there. With the removal of Augusta’s Edwards dam on the lower Kennebec in 1999 and the Great Works and Veazie dams on the lower Penobscot in 2012 and 2013, alewife, shad, blue-backed herring and salmon gained access to thousands of kilometers of riverine habitat for the first time. since the beginning of the 19th century.

Gaspereau flowing into the Sebasticook, a Kennebec tributary made accessible by the removal of dams, is now the largest in the United States, with nearly 6 million fish, and a favorite feeding site for bald eagles.


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