FREEPORT — The Mousam River system is the only major watershed in Maine that completely lacks fish passage. This watershed encompasses the area from the Atlantic Ocean to Kennebunk and westward to Acton and Waterboro.

A river such as the Mousam, marred with 15 dams along its length, is not one that is conducive to healthy wildlife or one that can support our diverse Maine ecosystems. These dams deny many species of fish – such as Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewives and blueback herring – access to their ancestral waters.

These species have been forced to occupy the remaining 1 percent of the river that is accessible to them. This immensely reduced area limits the ability of the fish to reproduce. Diminished populations have far-reaching impacts, beyond the well-being of that particular species.

Ecosystems exist in a balance between species, each one checking the populations of others. The fish of the Mousam River are not exempt from the rules of ecosystemic function.

As individuals that are meant to travel between freshwater and marine environments, fish supply new and needed nutrients to both types of ecosystem.

However, such intricate relationships are intensely affected when dams block their natural migration. Birds of prey and other mammals rely on these populations for sustenance – their current rarity might be because of the lessened populations of native fish.

Although these dams have existed for the entirety of my lifetime, there is a coming opportunity to remove some of this harmful and outdated infrastructure from our river. The Kennebunk Light and Power District owns the Kesslen, Twine Mill and Dane Perkins dams, the closest dams to the ocean on the Mousam River.

All three of these dams are in Kennebunk, and, as many residents are aware, are up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This is a long process, and Kennebunk Light and Power would like to decide by the end of this year whether or not to seek a new license.

The district is required to tell FERC by March 2017 whether it wants to relicense or remove the dams. This will be the only opportunity in the next 30 years to change the current infrastructure of the dams.

No dams in Kennebunk would mean nine more miles of mainstream Mousam River and six more miles of tributary access. It would mean increased access to inland water for native Maine fish, expanded opportunity for wildlife promotion, and potential to address the pollution hidden by the dam embankments. The return of the sea-run and the important source of biomass the fish provided could become possible.

As a lifelong resident of Maine, I realize that I share this land with others beside myself. Other species have contributed to my experience as a Mainer, and I try to respect their needs as well as mine. The removal of the Kesslen, Twine Mill and Dane Perkins dams would not negatively affect the human experience of Kennebunk, but it would greatly broaden the possibilities of the rest of the members of my community.

I realize that this is a complicated situation: Dam removals are a controversial topic, and community members are rightfully concerned about how the process might affect them. But Maine is a state that has seen enormous success with dam removals, creating benefits for towns economically and recreationally, as well as supporting healthy ecosystems.

The three dams in Kennebunk blocking fish passage are old structures that would require a large amount of revenue to ensure safety. The monetary figure will be even higher as relicensing would necessitate a construction of fish passage.

Removals of the Kesslen, Twine Mill and Dane Perkins dams would not only be successes for the environment and nonprofits that support conservation. They would also signify a success for the town of Kennebunk, which would enjoy a free-flowing Mousam River.

With the return of wildlife would come a healthier ecosystem, which could support diverse recreational activities on the river. This would bring Kennebunk residents as well as tourists to the Mousam, creating economic opportunities for businesses in the town and community building around the river.

Kennebunk Light and Power has been clear in requesting to hear opinions from the public concerning their stance on dam removal and relicensing. I urge residents of Kennebunk to take advantage of this opportunity and take a stance against the relicensing of the Kesslen, Twine Mill and Dane Perkins dams for the health of their town and well-being of Maine’s diverse ecosystems.

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