The Kennebunk Light & Power District will not apply to relicense three dams on the Mousam River and will stop generating hydroelectric power at them.

The electric utility had been weighing whether to remove the three most downstream dams on the river or face potentially costly upgrades to build fish passages. The river once hosted large spawning migrations of river herring and American shad.

The district’s board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it will surrender its licenses for the Twine Mill, Dane Perkins and Kesslen dams when they expire in March 2022. Trustees had until March 2017 to decide whether to seek federal relicensing of the three dams or propose alternative plans for the facilities.

Trustees have been talking about and studying the future of the dams for five years.

Todd Shea, general manager of the nonprofit Kennebunk Light & Power, said he will now contact federal regulators, state agencies and other interested parties to discuss what will happen to the concrete structures. They could be removed, stay in place or have fish passages added.

Shea said the trustees’ decision means the utility company will disconnect its power generation equipment from the dams when the licenses expire.

“I was happy to see the board finally come to at least part of the decision,” Shea said. “It’s been a long process with a lot of public scrutiny.”

Local conservationists and sportsmen support removing some or all of the dams on the river, including the large Kesslen Dam in downtown Kennebunk, because it would allow the lower nine miles of the Mousam to flow freely. But some riverfront homeowners raised concerns about the release of contaminated sediments, how lower water levels at impoundments would affect property values, and whether the changes would worsen flooding risks.

Late last year, Kennebunk Light & Power released a 90-page draft assessment that concluded relicensing the three dams would cost $8.9 million to $11.7 million. Much of that cost would cover installing fish ladders or other fish passages that likely would be required to receive a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Surrendering the licenses and removing the dams was estimated to cost $2.3 million and would carry fewer long-term obligations for the utility.

“Many factors are being taken into consideration as part of the board’s decision-making process,” the board said in the October report. “The board is weighing environmental, economic and financial factors in order to make the decision that is in the best interest of our ratepaying customers.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Shea told trustees that it cost the utility more than $109,000 to generate 957,720 kilowatt hours of power from the dams in 2015, more than it would have cost to purchase that amount from other sources.

John Burrows, a member of the Mousam and Kennebunk Rivers Alliance, said his group has been pushing for dam removal because members believe it’s best for the environment, including the river herring and American shad that return to the river each year but can’t reach spawning habitat because of the dams. He praised trustees for finally making a decision that will allow the process to move forward.

“The question moving forward is what ultimately happens to the dams and when that will happen,” he said. “It could take many years before an ultimate decision is made about what happens to the dams themselves.”

The board also voted unanimously Wednesday to immediately stop generating power at the Kesslen Dam because of safety issues with the equipment. A report on the condition of generating equipment at Kesslen found there is an unsafe buildup of carbon that creates a fire hazard in the basement of the Lafayette Center. Shea said power generation at Kesslen will not resume until new safety measures are put in place to address the fire hazard concerns.

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