Sappi Fine Papers has selected a plan for creating a passageway for fish at Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook that will not restrict recreational boating, the company announced on Monday.

The paper company had been considering two plans to ease passage for fish through the Presumpscot River waterway, a requirement imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as it prepares to remove the Saccarappa Dam.

Sappi made its decision after considering public input last month.

The plan it selected, which it calls the “Western Channel Design,” calls for the creation of a fish passage in the western channel only in the upper falls area. It would restore the upper falls to its original bedrock levels that existed before the paper company used the waterway for hydroelectric power, according to a 15-page report the company released announcing its decision.

The Western Channel Design also includes plans for a 180-foot fish ladder at the lower falls that would allow migratory fish – such as alewives, shad and herring – to repopulate the river.

The alternative plan, the “Two Channel Design,” would have called for fish passages in both the western and eastern channels of the upper falls area. That would have required the original bedrock of the eastern channel to be reshaped, lowering the level of the pooled water at the top of the falls.

The Two Channel Design included plans to create a series of step pools more than 500 feet long with switchbacks to make it accessible for fish.

“Over the past several years, the City of Westbrook has expressed an interest in enhancing recreational opportunities for boaters,” Sappi states in a section of its report about recreational considerations. “The City’s recreational consultant had indicated that the opportunities for enhancements in the eastern channel are only limited by one’s imagination. (The company) believes that the expressed interests of the City are better served by allocating the western channel for fish passage and leaving the eastern channel available for other non-conflicting interests.”

The construction cost of the Western Channel Design, estimated at $4.5 million, is also less than the estimated cost of the Two Channel Design of about $5.3 million. The Western Channel Design is also expected to cost less after the initial construction is completed.

The paper company had originally been required to build a fish ladder over its dam at the falls by last spring.

But by agreeing to consider removing the dam altogether, it received a two-year extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Sappi had said it needs to have a design this year to meet the new 2017 deadline for creating the fish passageway.

Plans for a fishway first began in 2009, when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ruled that Sappi had to build a fishway at Cumberland Mills, its dam farthest down the river, used to draw water for cooling. That ruling triggered a federal requirement that if the company created a fishway downstream at Cumberland Mills, it also had to create fish passages upstream at its hydroelectric dams.


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