Water is being diverted from the area where the Saccarappa Falls fish ladder will be built. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK — The removal of the Sappi hydropower dam on the Presumpscot River is progressing successfully, according to the project’s engineering manager.

Work to remove the head walls of the dam began in mid-July. A natural fish ladder will be installed once the dam is fully removed.

“To date the project is going as planned. Much progress was made over the last two months,” Barry Stemm said, and it’s “slightly ahead of schedule primarily due to good construction weather.”

“(There has been) efficient demolition of the old spillways and dam gate structures,” Stemm said.

Talks of removing the dam for the benefit of wildlife began over 20 years ago, but was reinforced in 2006 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to require fish passage and minimum water flow standards around the Presumpscot River dams,  then owned by S.D. Warren Co. The DEP requirements were part of water quality certifications required for federal relicensing.

After years of negotiations, the city of Westbrook and Sappi, the current owners, agreed to a plan to remove the dam. That plan  was approved by federal regulators this April.

Michael Shaughnessy, president of Friends of the Presumpscot River, said the response from residents he has talked to about the work “has been very positive.”

“It is looking better than expected,” Shaughnessy said of the lower water level since the removal of the head walls.

“I thought there would be more mud (on the new shoreline) when the water dropped. It usually takes awhile to green in, but it seems like it’s greening in immediately. The current is a little more, but not bad and you can still go up stream. It’s looking good,” he said.

Fish ladder construction is expected to start in coming months.

“I encourage anyone to kayak down it or paddle down and take a look. It’s almost more manicured than it was before,” Shaughnessy said.

 

 

 

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