July 11, 2012

EPA orders state: Open St. Croix to alewives

The directive overrules two Maine laws intended to protect other fish species, but environmentalists say the presence of the foragers will benefit ecosystems.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Early last month, Bob Bryant, left, and Dale Lolar run past the Grand Falls Flowage created by a dam on the St. Croix River. The two were participating in a 100-mile sacred run relay organized by members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe to bring attention to the plight of alewives, which have been prevented from reaching their spawning habitat because fishways had been closed along the river.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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EPA's letter to Maine AG William Schneider

Roger Fleming, an Appleton-based attorney with Washington, D.C.-based Earthjustice who helped file legal motions for the Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, said Maine has little choice but to comply.

“I think the letter is strong and they don’t really have any options in this case,” Fleming said. “We will do whatever is necessary to make sure they take appropriate action, and if we have to we will go back to court.”

In a written statement, the EPA’s office of public affairs for New England appeared to signal that the agency’s most powerful enforcement cudgel might not be available in this case. The Grand Falls Dam was built prior to passage of the Federal Power Act and thus is not subject to federal licensing under the Clean Water Act.

“EPA’s disapproval (of the Maine law) could affect licensing of any new activities on the St. Croix River in the vicinity of the Grand Falls Dam until the situation is rectified,” the statement said. “Under present circumstances, however, the Grand Falls Dam does not require any (Clean Water Act) licensing that would be directly affected by EPA’s disapproval.”

EPA spokesman David Deegan declined Tuesday to elaborate on questions of enforcement.
This year’s spring spawning run has ended, so from an ecological perspective there may be no particular rush to open the fishway.

As reported Sunday, the international body charged with resolving disputes on the shared waterway has already developed a plan to manage and monitor the reintroduction of alewives should the Grand Falls Dam be opened to them.

The International Joint Commission’s “adaptive management plan” would let the alewives into more of the watershed while carefully monitoring their effects on the ecosystem and taking steps to restrict their numbers if problems arise. It is not clear whether the plan is consistent with the EPA’s ruling, although it was developed with the expectation that the agency might take action.

The plan would allow the spawning alewives into the middle watershed, but prevent them from passing the next set of dams at Vanceboro (on the main river) and Grand Lake Stream (on the western branch.) Biologists would carefully monitor the situation, stepping in to close fishways if alewives appeared to cause trouble at certain densities.

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

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