March 24

Maine DEP's dam relicensing effort in disarray, records show

Missed deadlines have shorn Maine of power.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Maine DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho chairs a hearing in Aurora on June 6. In 2011, Aho decentralized responsibility for dam relicensing. She re-centralized it after a deadline was missed.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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INTERACTIVE TIMELINE
 
Click to explore a timeline showing key dam relicensing deadlines and the DEP's internal emails:

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

The emails also indicate Howatt did not learn she had missed the March 20 deadline for Forest City and West Branch until mid-April. Instead of informing the commissioner’s office, she and Beyer tried to fix the damage by contacting the dam’s owners – Woodland Pulp – and asking them to voluntarily withdraw and resubmit their paperwork. At first, the company appeared willing to do so, but at a meeting in early June they said they would not. Officials from Woodland Pulp did not respond to an interview request.

According to memos they sent each other, Commissioner Aho and policy director Heather Parent did not learn of the missed deadlines until June 20. In handwritten comments, Parent asks why the deadline was missed. “Isn’t there a process in place?” she wrote in the margins of a memo from Howatt on the topic. “As coordinator, it’s your responsibility to know deadlines!!”

The Portland Press Herald first reported the missed deadlines at Forest City and West Branch on Aug. 27, after the DEP reported the missed deadline to the federal government. At the time, Howatt and her supervisor, Mark Bergeron, told the paper the missed deadline had been March 2, rather than March 20. They also said the deadline had been missed because Howatt was overwhelmed with compiling court records for proceedings involving the Eel Weir dam in Sebago Lake, but Murch says he had already compiled and organized those records before leaving the department.

“All they would have to do is make a duplicate copy of the record,” he said. “That’s literally a clerical person’s job, standing by the copier.”

According to DEP records, the next water certification deadline is for the Brassua dam on Feb. 13, 2014.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

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