A crew member works on the fish ladder at Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook last week. The passage is nearly complete and work is transitioning to the other channel of the Presumpscot. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — Construction of the fish ladder at Saccarappa Falls is just about done and most of the remaining work on the long-awaited dam removal project should be completed by the end of the fall.

The entire project should be officially wrapped up by next May, according to a spokesman for Sappi North America.

Michael Shaughnessy, president of Friends of the Presumpscot River and a city councilor, said in addition to the fish passage, work on the western channel also is nearing completion.

“Now they are sculpting the eastern channel and still taking down some headwalls,” Shaughnessy said.

The project’s completion will mean the return of both wildlife and recreation to the area, he said. Another benefit will be the island in the river and the city is looking into how to make use of it, he said.

“That is big,” Shaughnessy said. “This whole area is going to be amazing, something we can really enjoy.”

Olga Karagiannis, Sappi’s corporate communications manager, said the project is ahead of schedule, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The project has implemented several safety procedures in accordance with state of Maine CDC recommendations in an effort to keep the project workers safe and the construction progress on track. To date the project has remained COVID-19 free,” she said.

Talks about removing the dam for the benefit of wildlife began over 20 years ago. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s right to require fish passage and minimum water flow standards around the Presumpscot River dams – then owned by S.D. Warren Co. – as part of water quality certifications required for federal relicensing.

After years of negotiations, the city of Westbrook and Sappi, the current owners, were able to come to an agreement to remove the dam. Work began last July.

A bridge was built to allow workers to bring a crane and other equipment to the island in the river, allowing work to be done on both channels. Chance Viles / American Journal

Workers, just feet away from the moving river, work to finish the fish ladder near Saccarappa Park. Chance Viles / American Journal

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