Tom Bell, Staff Writer
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Restoring a river is not an undertaking for someone looking for quick results. Fortunately for communities in the Presumpscot River watershed, Dusti Faucher takes the long view. For more than two decades, Faucher has been struggling to bring life back to one of the oldest industrial rivers in the United States. Along its 26-mile-long journey from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, the Presumpscot has more dams per mile than any other river in Maine. One of the dams, the Smelt Hill dam, was removed a decade ago, returning the lower section of the river to its natural state for the first time since the 1730s. Eight dams remain. Faucher was one of the early leaders of Friends of the Presumpscot River, a grassroots organization formed in 1992 to fight a proposed de-inking plant in South Windham. The group won that battle and then worked to restore migratory fish species. It persuaded federal regulators to require provisions for fish passage in new licenses for five hydroelectric dams. In a separate action, the group successfully petitioned the state to order fish passage at the Cumberland Mills Dam in Westbrook, a project that was completed last spring. The group is now seeking to assure the best possible fish passage for the Saccarappa Falls dam, a project that is scheduled to be done in 2015. Two decades ago, Faucher says, people didn’t see much potential for the river, which was used to convey industrial waste and sewage to the sea. Today, the city of Westbrook has embraced the river as a centerpiece of its downtown redevelopment efforts. Other than raising two children, working to restore the Presumpscot is the most important work she’s done in her life, Faucher says. “It feels like righting a wrong that began 200 years ago and leaving something very tangible behind that’s bigger than me,” she says. Faucher, 68, lives in the winter in Florida with her husband, Ron Faucher, who six years ago retired from the Portland Water District, where he worked for years protecting the water quality of Sebago Lake. Every summer, though, the couple return to Windham and live in a camper at Dundee Park, a 20-acre recreational area on the Presumpscot River. The couple co-manage the park, which has a popular beach. “It’s wonderful to be back on the river and see all the wildlife,” she says. “It becomes full circle.”