BREWER, Maine — Once the Mill Dam is gone, fish — including endangered Atlantic salmon, alewives and eels — will be able to travel up the Sedgeunkedunk Stream and spawn after years of being blocked.
The dam, which has been in place for nearly a century, is one of three that used to provide water to the Eastern Fine Paper Co. mill, which closed in 2004, Frank Higgins, Brewer City engineer, said on Monday.
“The goal is to open this stream up to create a fish passage,” he said while providing a tour of the site. “Historically, there was salmon [and other fish], and for a century it’s been shut off.”
Brewer officials are working to remove the abandoned lower dam located appropriately on Mill Street, which will open up several miles of the stream to different types of fish. The other two abandoned Eastern Fine dams are in Orrington.
“We hope to get the migratory fish back — the salmon, alewives and lamprey eels,” Higgins said.
Removing Mill Dam is part of the city’s shoreland stabilization project along the Penobscot River and required a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, he said.
In spring 2007, the city opened the dam’s deep gate to drain a pond behind it, which “was the water source for the mill,” Higgins said. “There were four pipes that ran from this dam down to the mill. That was the process water for making paper.”
With the pond drained, the city was able to start the project during the first week of July and so far has removed a small brick building and some concrete and railings.
“We haven’t done any in the stream work,” Higgins said. “That’s to protect the fish.”
The stream’s water has been diverted to one side. On Monday, dam removal specialist John Jones created a coffin dam with sandbags that will isolate water on the other side of the stream where work crews will eventually remove the lower portion of the concrete barrier.
“All the concrete will be gone” once the project is complete later this year, Higgins said.
University of Maine students have been going to the site daily to test the water and document the number of fish, Higgins said, adding that the project has generated excitement with local aquatic scientists.
“They’ve been coming, quite literally, by the busload,” he said.
Orrington acquired the failing Meadow Dam, also known as the Fields Pond Dam, through tax liens when former operator Eastern Fine closed. Town leaders last year replaced the leaking dam with a rock ramp fishway dam that looks like natural rapids created by a pile of brook rocks. The fishway dam maintains water levels, while allowing fish to pass into Fields Pond.
Now that Brewer is removing the lower dam, fish will have access to more of the stream.
“Our hope is the fish find it acceptable,” Higgins said of the project.