AUGUSTA — Endangered Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River can be protected without removing four hydroelectric dams, federal energy regulators say, leaving conservation groups stunned.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reached the conclusion in a draft environmental assessment on July 1 in the relicensing of one of four dams owned by the Canada-based Brookfield Renewables.

The regulators said the fish can be protected and brought back to a population of at least 2,000, even if the Shawmut Dam in Benton injures or kills as many as 4 percent of them. That’s a lower bar than both conservationists and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources have called for.

“It’s really bad. It’s incredibly bad,” said Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told Maine Public.

FERC’s assessment also failed to meet fish passage standards recommended by its sister agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, he said.

“Both National Marine Services and the Department of Marine Resources recommended dam removal. FERC completely ignored that,” he said.


In a statement, a Brookfield spokesman said FERC’s proposed conditions are consistent with most of the company’s own recommendations, including the completion of a fish-lift at the Shawmut dam.

In its assessment, FERC said salmon and other sea-run fish would be adequately protected without removing any dams. Other measures to be taken include a new upstream fish lift and flume.

“As the commission has previously held, decommissioning is not a reasonable alternative to relicensing a project in most cases, when appropriate protection, mitigation and enhancement measures are available,” the report said.

FERC will take public comments before issuing a final decision.

Bennett said he is hopeful that the National Marine Fisheries Service will assert its authority in the matter.

Others applauded the findings.

In the Legislature, Senate Republicans said the review by the federal agency means “there is no reason for anyone to continue to advocate for complete removal of the four Kennebec River dams.”

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