WESTBROOK — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued the final approval of an agreement between Sappi, the city and several local, state and federal groups to remove the hydropower dam and install fish passages at Saccarappa Falls.

Michael Shaughnessy, president of the Friends of the Presumpscot River, said FERC agreement on April 18 was the project’s last major hurdle.

Getting to this stage, Shaughnessy said at Monday’s City Council meeting, has been a long time coming and comes after six years of back and forth negotiations.

“This is a very good day for the river,” he said.

Sappi has until May of 2021 to finish the work. It has asked to use Saccarappa Park for a staging area for the project, but that request was tabled at Monday’s meeting.

The FERC agreement has the support of the city of Westbrook, Friends of the Presumpscot River, Sappi North America, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is unlikely that a rehearing will be requested, Shaughnessy said, although such a request can be made within 30 days of the approval.

“Once completed, this removal and fish passage will restore a full one-fifth of the river to its original pre-colonial condition and allow for an abundance of anadromous fish spawning habitat,” Friends of the Presumpscot River and the Conservation Law Foundation said in joint press release.

The habitat will be able to support thousands of alewife, blueback herring, American shad and small populations of American salmon.

“These anadromous fish had once migrated up the Presumpscot in vast numbers and were critical to the survival of the Abenaki people who lived along the river for thousands of years. But the fisheries population met its demise due to the dams on the Presumpscot,” the release said.

The city is interested in adding some recreational elements to that section of the river once the dams are removed.

While the project has the go-ahead, a request by Sappi to use Saccarappa Park to store the needed construction supplies, materials and equipment has stalled at the council level.

The council on April 1 gave preliminary approval for Sappi to use Saccarappa Park as a construction site over the next two years while the dams are removed and fish passages installed. The topic was tabled at second reading Monday at the suggestion of Councilor Victor Chau to give Sappi and Portland Trails time to work out an agreement to extend the River Walk.

Portland Trails would like to extend the River Walk across a Sappi-owned parking lot behind  the Northern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (the former Warren Memorial Library) on Main Street.

Jaime Parker, a trails manager for Portland Trails, said while the proposed extension and the Saccarappa Park construction easement are not related, he would like Portland Trail’s request to be part of the discussion of Sappi easements throughout the city.

Parker said the River Walk now spills out onto Main Street by the Cornelia Warren Outdoor Pool. This easement over Sappi land would allow the trail to stay along the river until Cumberland Street and potentially tie into the Presumpscot River Trail Portland Trail is looking to extend down Warren Avenue.

The construction easement will be taken up again May 6. The tabling, City Administrator Jerre Bryant said, will allow the city and Sappi to “refine the agreement and introduce this other issue, which we have every reason to believe is going to be fully acceptable.”

Through the current agreement, Sappi has agreed to donate $3,500 to Westbrook Arts and Culture for downtown sculpture as compensation for using the city-owned Saccarappa Park. Bryant said some councilors have told him that compensation was not enough.

Bryant said there are several places around the city where Sappi allows free access to to the city and its residents. These sites include a parking lot off Cumberland Street that the public uses to access Frasier Field and Cornelia Warren Outdoor Recreation Area and land off Warren Avenue that the city has used as a snow dump for more than a decade.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

The City Council this week tabled a request from Sappi to use Saccarappa Park for storage of equipment, materials and tools during the removal of the dam on the Presumpscot River and construction of fish passages in their places..

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