The Dane Perkins dam is pictured behind a fence from Mill Street in Kennebunk on Tuesday. The dam is one of three hydroelectric dams that the Kennebunk Light and Power District must choose to either relicense or remove ahead of a looming FERC deadline.

The Dane Perkins dam is pictured behind a fence from Mill Street in Kennebunk on Tuesday. The dam is one of three hydroelectric dams that the Kennebunk Light and Power District must choose to either relicense or remove ahead of a looming FERC deadline.

KENNEBUNK — An eagerly awaited report detailing the costs to the environment, company and ratepayer if the Kennebunk Light and Power District chooses to relicense or remove its three hydroelectric dams was released to the public on Wednesday.

KLPD must decide whether to seek relicensing of their hydroelectric dams along the Mousam river – the Kesslan dam in downtown Kennebunk, and the Twine Mills and Dane Perkins dams located further upstream – ahead of a looming Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deadline. The board of directors has indicated that it will make a decision by the end of 2015, and it faces an absolute deadline of March of next year.

There are four choices considered in the roughly 90-page report conducted by the environmental engineering firm Wright Pierce. The first two would maintain the status quo: maintaining the three dams and choosing either to relicense each or seek an exemption from relicensing after adding additional generation capabilities. The other options would involve either seeking a “non-jurisdiction” judgment for the Kesslan dam (which would likely involve removing the other two) or simply surrendering the licenses and removing all three dams.

There are significant challenges facing KLPD in each decision. Wright Pierce notes that fish passage will likely be a requirement of a new relicensing agreement, requiring new infrastructure such as a fish ladder, which would allow certain fish species to bypass each of the dams, in addition to upgrading the generation equipment itself.

While an exemption would avoid the fish passage question, it would only be possible, according to Wright Pierce, “if (FERC’s) assessment is that the economic and power production benefits of the project do not outweigh the environmental impacts associated with the project.” General Manager of Kennebunk Light and Power Todd Shea recognizes that this will be a tough sell.

“There are (also) a lot of reopener clauses in the license,” Shea said about the ability for federal agencies to challenge their exemption if they feel the environmental costs of the dam exceeded the economic benefit. Shea added it remains unclear “whether we would be required to make further upgrades as those rules change.”

The non-jurisdiction judgment is fraught with legal questions about whether KLPD’s facilities would qualify for non-jurisdiction and whether FERC would even rule on this question before the March 2017 deadline. The FERC does not have jurisdiction on dams that were constructed before 1935 on navigable waters – meaning that the Mousam river would have to be declared non-navigable.

“Key uncertainties associated with this Alternative remain, despite consultation with KLPD’s FERC legal council,” the report acknowledges.

Finally, the choice to remove the dams could introduce uncertainly into the landscape; the faster moving river could cause some erosion and the dam removal could reveal contaminated sentiment that would need to be cleaned up.

According to cost estimates provided by Wright Pierce after all potential revenues are considered, the cheapest option would be to remove the dams. Surrendering the license and removing the dams would cost the KLPD nearly $1.5 million, mostly from the dam removal itself and infrastructure improvements to the surrounding area.

The next cheapest option is to seek a non-jurisdiction judgment, which would cost around $80,000 more, and seeking a license exemption, which would cost an additional $148,000. The report includes a low and high range of costs to relicense the sites, which would be anywhere from about $1.9 million to almost $4.8 million.

Shea said the wide range of forecasted costs is due to the burdensome licensing process, as well as the added infrastructure of fish passage.

“Those licensing costs are quite considerable,” Shea said. “It’s hiring attorneys, consults as well as studies that are required to be done. … There can be quite a few of those that can be required.”

Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring Maine’s rivers, said that the projected costs of removing contaminated sediment gave her pause.

“It seems like the estimates for removing contaminated sediment are pretty high … and they haven’t collected any information that would lead them to believe they were collecting sediment (near the dams),” she said.

Hudson also weighed in on the environmental impact of dam removal estimated by the report, which said while many species will benefit from fish passage, others like the alewife would not be affected because dams further upstream block access to spawning grounds.

“The three dams would have certain immediate benefits for some species and other, longer-term improves … on the other hand it would be one heck of a good start,” Hudson said.

The KLPD Board of Trustees will meet Oct. 13 to discuss the results of the report. Kennebunk residents will have a chance to comment on the report in a public meeting tentatively scheduled for Nov. 16.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: