Worries aired at river plan hearing

Posted May 06, 2009, at 10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:20 p.m.

HOWLAND, Maine — Mike Currie has a nice house at 17 Water St. across the street from the Penobscot River, and he wants to keep it that way.

What he doesn’t want, Currie told officials from the state Department of Marine Resources on Wednesday, is a nice house in the Penobscot River.

Currie worries that the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s plans to install a fish bypass at the Howland Dam would, if approved, inadvertently submerge his waterfront property.

“Flood control was the reason they built that dam,” Currie told Marine Resources officials during a public hearing at the town office, which drew about 55 people. “If the dam is reduced, I have a real concern with ice dams and flooding that can come.”

Others complained that the planned installation of the fish bypass in Howland and the removal of the Veazie and Great Works dams would increase the likelihood of invasive species, such as the Northern pike, getting upriver and into the Katahdin region.

Officials from the River Trust and the state agencies, however, said flooding and pike invasion are unlikely.

Melissa Laser, a biologist with the Marine Resources’ Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries & Habitat, said after the meeting that bureau workers were in Howland Wednesday to hear from the public about the state’s proposed $24 million plan to restore diadromous fish to the Penobscot over the next several years. The workers were not conducting the hearing to hear about the River Trust’s $50 million plan to buy and decommission three Penobscot River dams to restore upstream passage for sea-run fish, she said.

Nevertheless, bureau and Trust officials said they welcomed the comments because the plans are complementary, and they welcomed the chance to clear up misconceptions about either.

The dam removals and bypass installation are part of efforts to open the Penobscot watershed to sea-run fish, including Atlantic salmon and other species such as alewives, sturgeon, blueback herring and shad, Laser said.

According to engineers hired to study the projects, the dam removals and fish bypass are unlikely to increase any flooding problems on the river, said Jeff Reardon, New England conservation director for Trout Unlimited, one of several organizations backing the plans.

Plus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are studying the dam removal proposal, Reardon said.

“If they were going to increase flooding, I seriously doubt those agencies would permit the plan,” he said.

Most speakers liked both plans, saying that restoration of the dams and fish were important to the region’s tourist industries, which rely heavily upon fishermen and to others who love the river and its tributaries.

“We think this is the best proposal to restore the Penobscot River’s ecosystem,” said John Burrows, Maine coordinator of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “Right now it’s not a healthy ecosystem.”

With its runs of striped bass, river herring and sea lampreys, the Kennebec River’s ecosystem is much healthier, as those seaborne fish carry nutrients and provide food for insects, mussels and others that feed on them, Burrows said. That in turn improves water quality.

With time and investment, the Penobscot River can be that healthy, he said. Last year’s restoration efforts helped 1,400 salmon to get above the Veazie Dam, Burrows said.

More hearings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at Brewer Auditorium and Thursday, May 14, in the Superior Court courtroom at the Piscataquis County Courthouse in Dover-Foxcroft.

Written comments on the plan, which is available at http://maine.gov/dmr/searunfish/reports/POPFullDraft4-13-09.pdf, will be accepted until May 28. A limited number of hard copies are available upon request from Marine Resources.

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