52 miles of Kennebec River shoreline blocked from development

Posted Aug. 03, 2011, at 8:47 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 04, 2011, at 9:44 a.m.

INDIAN STREAM TOWNSHIP, Maine — Maine officials say the state has been granted a conservation easement on Indian Pond at the headwaters of the Kennebec River.

According to Gov. Paul LePage’s office, FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC granted the easement as part of a settlement in relicensing Harris Dam, located at the southern end of the pond in Indian Stream Township.

The easement covers 1,278 acres, including 52 miles of shoreline, in Sapling Township. The pond is located just off Moosehead Lake and marks the beginning of the Kennebec River.

Under terms of the easement, the lands cannot be developed but can be used for education and conservation purposes and low-impact public recreation. No commercial timber harvesting will be allowed.

“Preserving so much shoreline and wetlands is a win-win situation for both the adjoining working forest and recreation economy and the area’s premier wildlife habitat,” LePage said in announcing the easement, which was signed July 27. “This is the kind of highly targeted state acquisition that is enhancing Maine’s expansion in the eco-economy sector.”

“We are pleased to conserve these lands for the benefit of the people of the State of Maine as part of our agreement that allows our Harris hydro-generation station to continue to produce clean and renewable electricity” T.J. Tuscai, chief operating officer of NextEra Energy Resources, said.

FPL Energy Maine Hydro is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources.

Indian Pond, located southwest of Moosehead Lake, is 3,746 acres in area, 9 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, with a total of 64 miles of shoreline, owned almost in its entirety by NextEra Energy Resources. The pond has been designated by the state as “a wetland of special significance.” Outside the conserved shorelands, the pond is surrounded by land owned by NextEra Energy Resources, Central Maine Power and Plum Creek.

In 2004, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a new license for the Harris Dam, which NextEra Energy Resources purchased from Central Maine Power in 1999. The Indian Pond conservation easement was one of the resulting licensing obligations resulting from a stakeholder settlement agreement negotiated as part of the license, in which NextEra Energy Resources agreed to donate the conservation easement on its property.

Stakeholders included the state of Maine, The Forks Chamber of Commerce, Kennebec Valley Trails, American Whitewater Affiliation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Maine Professional River Outfitters Association and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Indian Pond and the conserved lands offer recreational opportunities including camping, fishing, canoeing, boating, wildlife viewing, back-country skiing, hiking, and ice fishing.

The southern end of the pond, which reaches a depth of 120 feet, is known for its cold-water fishing, particularly land-locked salmon and trout, according to Kathy Eickenberg, acting deputy director for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. This part of the pond is the most heavily used section and has a picnic area and a 27-site campground with a parking area for 20 cars.

The northern end of the pond has significant wetland areas and supports an exceptional smallmouth bass fishery, Eickenberg said. Two eagles’ nests, numerous loon nests and other waterfowl habitat exist at that end of the pond, which also is the least developed part of pond.

The shoreline of Indian Pond exposes “a fascinating collection of geological formations,” according to Dr. Robert Marvinney, Maine state geologist. The pond area once was part of the ancient edge of the North American continent, and formations in the area record the collision of a volcanic island group in the North Atlantic slamming into that ancient margin almost 500 million years ago, he said.

The pond and its tributaries are excellent habitat for wading birds and waterfowl and also has a rare plant population — the swamp fly honeysuckle, a small shrub found in forested wetlands, according to Maine Natural Areas Program staff.

A regional snowmobile trail, ITS 88, traverses adjoining lands on the east side. Abutting lands include working forests and a small area reserved for a back-country lodge, a component of Plum Creek’s pending plan for the Moosehead region.

Visitors can access Indian Pond and the newly conserved lands by dirt roads, either driving five miles on Burnham Pond Road, off Route 6 up the west side of Moosehead Lake, or from The Forks side, about 12 miles on Lake Moxie Road to Indian Pond Road.

Commissioner Chandler Woodcock of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Commissioner Bill Beardsley of the Maine Department of Conservation lauded the granting of the easement by NextEra Energy Resources.

“The effort put into this conservation easement is testimony to how individuals, organizations and state government in Maine can come together and accomplish something that will be valued and used by generations to come,” Woodcock said.

“This is a strategic section of the Kennebec, a renowned destination for birders, an interface between hydropower generation and ecology,” Beardsley said.

NextEra Energy Resources, which retains the right to use the land for hydroelectric purposes, also is making a donation for easement stewardship to an endowment fund held by Maine Community Foundation against which the Department of Conservation, which will hold the easement, can draw for easement monitoring.

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