The owner of dams along the Presumpscot River will hold a public meeting in Westbrook on Thursday to discuss a dam removal and fish passage agreement.
Sappi North America will hold the meeting at 7 p.m. at Westbrook High School to present information about the proposal to remove two spillways, or dam headwalls, at Upper Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook and to install a fish passage system around Lower Saccarappa Falls.
The company has also agreed to install a fish-counting facility and to either remove or provide fish passage around dams at Little Falls and Mallison Falls once a certain number of fish pass Saccarappa Falls.
Sappi negotiated the settlement in order to comply with state and federal obligations to provide fish passage around the dams for American shad, alewives and other sea-run fish as part the federal licensing process.
Other parties to the settlement agreement include Friends of the Presumpscot River, the Conservation Law Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the city of Westbrook.
Supporters contend the agreement will restore fish passage and wildlife habitat on a stretch of the once heavily industrialized river above Westbrook while improving recreational opportunities for fishermen, kayakers, bird watchers and others.
But the settlement has come under fire from other conservation groups, most notably Friends of Sebago Lake, which argues the pact does not go far enough.
Friends of Sebago Lake has pledged to oppose the proposal because it would not require Sappi or future owners to improve fish passage around the Dundee and Gambo dams – both located in the upper half of the 25-mile-long river – until at least the year 2053.
That means sea-run fish will still be blocked from accessing the Presumpscot’s upper watershed and Sebago Lake.
In particular, the group objects to language in the agreement stating that “under present circumstances, fish passage at Gambo and Dundee is not required or appropriate, and that the removal of the Mallison Falls and Little Falls dams would not change that finding.”
Sappi is voluntarily holding the public information meeting as part of its request with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a one-year extension – until May 2019 – on the deadline to provide fish passage around the Saccarappa dam. Before the settlement agreement can take effect, Sappi must receive a new water quality certification from the DEP, as well as approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to surrender its license to operate the Saccarappa hydroelectric facility.
Company representatives are expected to answer questions from the public about the project as well as lay out the timeline for work at the site.