Agreement central to health of Presumpscot River and fish populations
November 16, 2016 (WESTBROOK, ME) – Friends of the Presumpscot River (FOPR) and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced today the filing of a long-awaited settlement agreement that will lead to the construction of fish passage and removal of two dams at Saccarappa Falls in Downtown Westbrook. This agreement was reached by the two nonprofit groups, dam owner Sappi Fine Paper, the City of Westbrook, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources and filed yesterday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Removal of the two dams will eliminate a significant barrier to migratory fish, once counted in the millions on the Presumpscot River, and will open a large segment of prime spawning habitat to several species of sea-run fish.
“After engaging in three years of negotiations with Sappi, other parties and our partner Conservation Law Foundation, this settlement agreement will result in vast improvements for our river,” said Michael Shaughnessy, President of Friends of the Presumpscot River. “It is an agreement we can all be very proud of. When the dams are removed and fish passage finally constructed, we will have a wonderful result for the river and for the people who live in the Presumpscot’s watershed. It will open up the longest and cleanest stretch of riverway in the most densely populated area of the state, and it will greatly enhance the economic and recreational value of the river.”
Today’s agreement also requires Sappi to either remove the next two dams upriver — Mallison Falls and Little Falls in Windham — or install fish passage facilities at those dams once a threshold number of American shad or blueback herring pass at the Saccarappa Falls site. The settlement agreement would also extend the license and fish passage deadline for two other Sappi dams, Gambo and Dundee.
Sean Mahoney, Maine Director for Conservation Law Foundation, added, “The Presumpscot River was once home to hundreds of thousands of migratory fish before it was dammed, stem to stern, and treated as though it were a public sewer. Restoring the productivity of the fish populations in the Presumpscot is vital, not just for those who fish along the river, but also for the health of our fishing industry in Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine. Migratory fish like alewives and bluebacks are critical bait for the lobster fishery and key to the entire food system.”
The agreement, which must be approved by FERC and the Maine DEP, is the latest in a series of actions that have restored the water quality of, and access to, the Presumpscot River over the last three decades, including the removal of the Smelt Hill dam in Falmouth in 2002, a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the provisions of the FERC license for five of Sappi’s Presumpscot dams, and the first proceeding by the State of Maine to require that a dam owner — Sappi — install fish passage, at the Cumberland Mills dam just downriver from Saccarappa Falls.
A copy of the settlement agreement can be found here. Experts are available for further comment.