An agreement has been reached to study “nature-like” fish passage at Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook.

According to a press release Monday, the agreement with dam owner Sappi Fine Paper, the city of Westbrook and various environmental groups, including Friends of the Presumpscot, sets a plan to evaluate a natural passage alternative, which would require removal of the dam at the falls, and also extends Sappi’s fish passage deadline to May 2017.

Sappi had recently submitted plans to install what is called a Denil fish ladder at Saccarappa Falls, much like the one installed last year at nearby Cumberland Mills, but has negotiated the exploration of the complete removal of the hydroelectric dams.

“All parties have agreed to seek delay of those proceedings so that an alternative approach can be explored together,” the release states. “In addition, the work will evaluate the inclusion of recreational features, including potential use by kayakers, as requested by the city.”

Last May, just a few months after the initial announcement concerning Saccarappa Falls, Sappi completed its $4.8 million Cumberland Mills fishway project, which now allows river herring, shad and other types of fish to pass up the Presumpscot River for the first time in more than 150 years.

The Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp. recently approved funds, not to exceed $50,000, toward hiring Pennsylvania-based Princeton Hydro, an engineering firm that will conduct the study for a natural fishway. As part of the agreement, Sappi will contribute $150,000 toward the work.

“We remain excited and hopeful about the future of the river,” said Mayor Colleen Hilton in the release. “We think this agreement represents a common sense and consensus-based effort by the parties to bring about the best possible outcome in terms of fish passage, recreation and responsible environmental stewardship.”

Any design for either the removal of the dams, or for the installation of a fish ladder requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


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