New England Conservation Director
1/26/2004 -- Augusta, Maine -- Trout Unlimited and other Maine river advocates welcomed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) order approving FPL Energy’s (FPLE) proposal to breach the Fort Halifax dam to provide fish passage. But they stressed that much remained to be done before the dam would be breached.
“FERC’s commissioners have made an important decision, in keeping with the recommendations of state and federal fisheries agencies, and which upholds existing license conditions and agreements,” said Greg Ponte, chair of Maine’s TU Council and Kennebec Valley Chapter Member.
The Kennebec Valley Chapter of TU (KVTU), along with TU staff and the other organizations in the Kennebec Coalition (the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and American Rivers) have been working to secure fish passage or dam removal on the Kennebec River and its tributaries for more than a decade.
The Fort Halifax Dam was constructed in 1908 without fishways. The dam sits at the mouth of the Sebasticook River, the largest tributary to the Kennebec River. The dam’s owner, FPL Energy, was required to construct permanent fish passage by 2003. In June, 2002, FPLE determined that the cost of fish passage would make the dam unprofitable, and applied to FERC for permission to remove it. Some interested parties, primarily local landowners with homes on the impoundment, opposed the request, and asked FERC to modify its fish passage requirements to allow use of an untested “fish pump” currently used to harvest fish by the aquaculture industry. State and federal fisheries experts, as well as KVTU, opposed use of this experimental technology. FERC had temporarily released FPLE from its fish passage responsibility, and had delayed acting on the FPLE request. With Friday’s order, the delay is ended and the FPLE removal request is granted.
The project will still require permits from the State of Maine, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the town of Winslow. “This is only the first of several steps in gaining regulatory approval, but it is probably the most difficult step,” said John Burrows of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Other advocates expressed concern that fish passage deadlines had already been missed.
“We had an agreement that fish passage would be provided by 2003, and we’re already looking at long delays. It’s critical for the other federal and state agencies to complete their reviews as soon as possible, and for FPLE to work quickly to resolve any remaining permitting issues,” said Nick Bennet of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Jeff Reardon, TU New England Conservation Director, praised the Kennebec Valley Chapter for its long term advocacy. “The Kennebec Chapter represents TU’s heart and soul. They had a vision for the Kennebec more than 10 years ago, and they’ve been working to achieve it ever since. When the Edwards Dam was removed, they could have declared victory and gone back to fishing, but they are in this for the long haul.”
Mission: Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 130,000 members in 450 chapters in North America.