AUBURN — With the Barker Mill Dam license set to expire in 2019, officials in Auburn are already working with stakeholders to negotiate the next phase for the dam on the Little Androscoggin River — and they’re hoping that means more recreational opportunities.

Since 2014, the city has been working with dam owner KEI Power Management and environmental groups throughout the complicated relicensing process, which is ultimately approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Auburn officials today will host a workshop on the topic at Auburn Hall. It will feature representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Park Service’s hydro program and American Whitewater.

From the city’s perspective, they’d like the new license to reflect a bigger focus on recreational enhancements, and they’re looking for more support from KEI for trail maintenance and better river access.

Organizations such as American Whitewater, which advocates for river access for kayaking, canoeing and other recreation, have also been actively involved in the process.

Eric Cousens, Auburn’s deputy director of economic and community development, has been the city’s point man on discussions. He said recently that he’s been surprised with the amount of stakeholder interest as the new licensing deadline approaches. He said before a new license is granted by FERC, the agency takes environmental impacts into consideration, and takes a look at the future use of land. Licenses are usually approved for 20 or 30 years, highlighting why the licensing process is so involved.

The city recently filed comments following a FERC “flow study” at the dam in May. Included in those comments was there are “deficiencies in access” for recreation.

The comments also said that to date, KEI “has shown a lack of recognition that recreational amenities are important within the project area, and the city and the Androscoggin Land Trust continue to invest public and private funds to provide improved, yet limited access to the river.”

“Our concerns are recreational,” Cousens said during a recent City Council discussion.

During the recent meeting, Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he’s looking forward to seeing “a full assessment for all options.”

He also said that it appeared KEI has an “indifference to recreation.”

During the same meeting, City Councilor Jim Pross, who serves on the Androscoggin Land Trust, said that having a “giveback” from KEI during the license process is important. He mentioned having timed releases from the dam for kayakers.

He said Auburn has invested in the area with a boat launch and overall redevelopment, and it’s important to have “results that complement” those efforts.

At many similar hydroelectric dams in the state, the topic of fish passage is often brought into the relicensing conversation. At many other dams, fish ladders have been installed that allow migratory fish to travel upstream.

However, during the recent meeting Cousens said KEI may not be able to afford the installation of fish passage if it’s ultimately required by FERC. He said alewives are brought upriver each year manually.

As the relicensing process nears the finish line, Cousens said FERC will “try to balance all competing public and private interests presented in the process” in the license details.

At the recent meeting, Cousens was asked what the city’s end goals were for the area. He had a few ideas.

“We’re looking for improved access both above and below (the dam),” he said.

He said perhaps having a way to know and communicate the flow conditions at the dam would benefit paddlers and fishermen, so they know when to plan recreational trips.

“Safe and easy recreational trips for residents could attract people,” he said.

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