May 26, 2018
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Aquatic center enters reconstruction phase

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

EAST MACHIAS, Maine — Five companies have submitted bids on the latest phase of reconstruction at the East Machias Aquatic Research Center, an educational and research facility along the riverfront.

Dwayne Shaw, director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, which is creating the center, said all bids came in higher than predicted. They ranged from a high of $690,000 to a low of $350,000.

Downeast Salmon Federation is negotiating with the lowest bidder on a few details, Shaw said this week. The bidder’s name is not being released until negotiations are complete.

Reconstructing and completing the center has been an eight-year process, but it is revitalizing a dilapidated building the town had designated as “blight and slum,” Shaw said.

An ironic twist is that the building was once a power generation station for Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., which gave the building to DSF.

Today, the center is completely off the grid. Using a $50,000 grant through the Maine Public Utilities Commission demonstration project program, the federation has installed solar panels that are generating power for the building and more. The federation now is selling excess power to Bangor Hydro.

To bolster the system, a vertical access windmill is being installed this week.

DSF is using funds privately raised in combination with a $215,000 challenge grant from the state’s Riverfront Community Development Bond to complete this phase of the project. The grant awarded to the town was one of 14 awarded from a $5 million state bond issue for a new River Grant Program approved by voters in 2007.

“We are hoping for some federal stimulus funds for the next phase,” Shaw said.

When completed, the facility will house a freshwater, flow-through research and fisheries enhancement hatchery, a museum and visitors center, an archival storage room, a wet lab-classroom, certified water quality lab, a technical resources center and office space.

“We know the system works because we just stocked 20,000 landlocked salmon into the East Machias watershed this spring,” Shaw said. The salmon were raised in the hatchery section of the center.

The federation, working with a group of partners that has included the town, Washington Academy and the University of Maine at Machias, among others, already has removed the old Bangor Hydro dam — a project that earned them national recognition — and transformed the exterior of the old cement block building.

Work that should begin this summer includes completing the hatchery area, installing a wet lab, and finishing work on a visitors center, a museum, restrooms and the exterior of the building.

The next phase will involve completing a second floor for the fireproof archives, office space, classroom and a lab.

Shaw anticipates the facility could create four or five jobs, including facilities manager, hatchery manager and an outreach-educator position. The facility, designed for freshwater and estuarine research, will complement the Downeast Institute at the University of Maine at Machias, which focuses on marine research. The facility also will provide lab space for university and visiting researchers, and space for teaching instruction for elementary and high school students.

Shaw hopes visitors will be enticed to come in off the Sunrise Trail and the river system to visit the facility.

To celebrate the progress of the facility thus far, Shaw said, an open house and blueberry ice cream social will be held for the public from 3 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13.

“This will give folks a chance to see the building before it is completely transformed,” he said.

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