ORLAND, Maine — The town will take over ownership of the Orland River dam once the details of the transfer have been arranged.
Voters at the annual town meeting this week voted to accept the dam from its current owner, Verso Paper Co. The dam was built in the 1930s to provide a small headwater pond to provide a water source for the newly established paper mill in Bucksport.
It was one of several dams erected in Orland for the paper company, but the mill has always drawn water from waters behind the Alamoosook dam, farther upriver. Verso officials have said previously the company has been divesting itself of properties it no longer needs at locations in Maine, Michigan and Minnesota.
Selectmen initially expressed concerns about potential cost to the town of maintaining the dam, but Selectman Wayne Ames also said there was concern about what would happen if the paper company abandoned the dam and it was removed. The river behind the dam flows through the center of Orland village creating scenic set-tings that have been an important part of the town’s history.
“There was enough concern about the future of the village to persuade people, and they voted to accept it,” Ames said Thursday.
Once the transfer of the dam is completed, the town will be responsible for maintaining it, he said. The town will continue to harvest alewives at the fish weir it maintains below the dam, and also will maintain the fish ladder that allows fish to travel up into the river.
Ames said the town likely will rely on revenues from the alewife harvest to create a fund that would be available for any work that needs to be done on the dam. Revenue from the alewives can vary widely depending on the number of fish and the market. Revenues in the past have been as high as $18,000 in a year and as low as $500, he said.
In the past, those funds have gone into the general fund and were used to ease the property tax burden.
“We’ll probably change our bookkeeping to create a dam fund so that if anything happens, we’ll have something there,” he said. “But, that’s going to take it away from general taxation.”
The town may create a committee to oversee the dam, Ames said, but likely will have to hire someone with knowledge of dams to monitor its condition. That, he said, will be an additional cost for the town.
The selectmen will need to meet with Verso officials to discuss some issues related to the dam, including water rights above the dam, the right of way from the river to Bucksport which had been obtained to run a potential waterline to the mill, and a right of way on the east side of the river that the town now uses for the alewife harvest.
According to Ames, Verso initially denied the town’s requests regarding those issues, as well as an allocation of funds for future maintenance on the dam. He said the town hoped to renew the discussion as they work on the transfer of ownership.
Ames said he expected the process would take a couple of months.