East Millinocket’s Board of Selectmen agreed to oppose a $50 million project to buy and decommission three Penobscot River dams to restore upstream passage for sea-run fish Monday, while Lincoln’s Town Council wanted to wait and see.
Councilors meeting in Lincoln on Monday night discussed Millinocket’s recent resolve opposing the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s removal project. That came after East Millinocket’s selectmen voted unanimously in their late afternoon meeting to join Millinocket.
“It’s not that we’re all necessarily against the [proposed] fish bypass. Our vote was made more as a way of delaying the process,” Mark Scally, chairman of East Millinocket’s board, said Tuesday.
At issue is the fear that the project would allow invasive species, such as northern pike, to get into the river and destroy the Katahdin region’s native fisheries. The project’s aim is to create an influx of Atlantic salmon, alewives and other fish in the Penobscot by removing the Veazie and Great Works dams and installing a fish bypass at the Howland dam. Permits are being reviewed. No approval timeline is set.
“There are some on our board who do not want the fish bypass, but what we are trying to do is have the public be more informed than they are about the project,” Scally said.
Selectmen heard presentations from a Penobscot River Restoration Trust official and from members of the Millinocket Fin & Feather Club who oppose the dam removals, Scally said.
Lincoln council Chairman Steve Clay polled councilors after Town Manager Lisa Goodwin discussed Millinocket’s resolve. Councilor Rod Carr said councilors should not be concerned about the dam removal’s producing a loss of electricity.
“It is not going to be a net loss,” Carr said.
Actually, the trust’s agreement with dam owner PPL Corp. allows for the restoration through other dams of all but 10 percent of the electricity lost when the Veazie and Great Works dams go off line.
Millinocket’s council voted 6-0 on Jan. 22 to oppose the project, although state biologists consider the issue far from settled. They say they lack conclusive data that northern pike, which are among the illegal species most predatory to salmon, are in the main stem of the Penobscot.
Pike and other predatory species can possibly swim from the Penobscot to Piscataquis rivers, to the east branch of the Pleasant River, then cross over to Upper Jo-Mary Lake and into the West Branch of the Penobscot. Yet biologists have not determined whether the connective waters — Upper Ebeemee Lake, Wangan Brook and Sanborn Pond — are deep enough to allow that. Their studies are ongoing.
Howland has long been in favor of the project, as among its benefits are the rehabilitation of a former Howland Tannery building on the Penobscot, which has been an abandoned eyesore for years.
The proposed $5 million bypass at the dam is expected to revitalize the tannery site, which the bypass will bisect, by 2012. The trust’s plans include building the bypass, greening some tannery land, razing three crumbling buildings, digging a channel and building a bridge over it for the on-site power station.
The town also is formulating plans to market the large portion of the site that will be developed. Some town officials have said they want to see a commercial or industrial use on that site that would help the town offset the loss of tax revenue caused by the loss of the dam’s taxable electricity generation.