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Preservation group assists state with Allagash dam repairs

Posted Feb. 22, 2012, at 4:09 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2012, at 2:12 p.m.

During the past few years, the nonprofit Lock Dam Preservation Association has helped the Maine Department of Conservation repair three critical dams on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

The dams impound water along the AWW. If any dam was breached, water levels would be negatively impacted downstream.

“The Allagash works on water. If you don’t have enough water, you can’t float a canoe on it or anything else,” said Rick Denico, LDPA president.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands oversees the 92-mile AWW, once a thoroughfare for harvested logs headed downriver to the St. John and now an adventure trail for paddlers, fishermen, and outdoor recreationists.

“State-run lands are always in need of maintenance and improvements,” said Denico. “They have projects that they’d like to do, but money can be an issue. “The Lock Dam Preservation Ltd. Association was formed in 2007-08 to aid AWW projects,” Denico of Vassalboro said.

The LDPA’s founding members includes Denico and John Banks, Penobscot Indian Nation; Charles Cianchette, Cianbro Corp.; Ed Cullivan, sportsman; Camille Denico, Rick Denico’s wife and the association’s secretary; Richard Fennelly Jr., Black Bear Hydro; David Flanagan, Viking Lumber; Tom Gardner, Gardner Timber; Rep. Jeffrey Gifford, Lincoln; and the late Bill Fiedler and Tom Thornton.

Thornton owned Nugent’s Camps on Chamberlain Lake until his death last October. Preservation association members all had ties to the Allagash.

“[I have been] associated with the Allagash region since my father contracted to build the first concrete single-lane bridge over the Allagash River in Allagash village in 1953,” said Denico, who has served on the AWW Advisory Council from 1998-2007. He has been a tech advisor since 2007 and was appointed by Gov. Paul LePage as an AWW advisor in 2011.

The Lock Dam Preservation Association works with the Bureau of Parks and Lands on projects that are important to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Denico said.

“We ask them what they need. If they have a project, we then go and find the money for it,” he explained. “We don’t foot the whole bill, but raise seed money for the larger projects.”

Over the last few years, the association has focused on repairs to Telos Dam, Lock Dam and Churchill Dam.

Charles Cianchette and Maine Warden Service pilot Charlie Later flew Denico, BPL engineer John Picher, Fiedler, and others on dam inspection trips.

“You’d fly in, park your plane on the ice or water, and check each dam,” Denico said. “All the dams can be evaluated very quickly, reducing the time spent from days to hours.”

All three dams needed repairs. At Telos Dam, a stop-log system was installed so a higher water level could be maintained on Chamberlain Lake in winter. New main gates are being installed, according to Denico.

“Most of them [existing gates] had cracked and [had] broken stems on each gate, so they could totally fail at any time,” he said.

“They’re about 6-by-8-feet and 18-feet-high stems,” Denico said. “This year we will replace the last gate.” Cianbro Corp. has provided a crane and crew to work on these gates each year for free.

“The winter draw down, if too great, reduces prime lake trout breeding habitat, according to Denico. Now the lake is drained only 2 feet, a level that protects the trout habitat.

“We also developed a winter-gate thawing procedure that can be used on Telos and Churchill dam gates to thaw them and take excessive strain off the lifting bearings,” he said.

To free frozen dam gates at Telos and Chamberlain, staffers from BPL and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife field-tested “a steam-heater unit, a little mini-boiler that runs on kerosene,” Denico said. “You plug it in to produce hot water and steam. Then a wand is used to spray the heated water and steam on the frozen gate, and in 15 minutes you can cut the ice and free the gate. The dam gates often froze shut in cold weather, Denico indicated. “If you get a rainstorm in the middle of the winter and the lake starts rising and you don’t open the gates, you could breach the dam,” he said. The BPL now stations a steam-heater unit at Chamberlain Bridge for use at Telos Dam or Churchill Dam.

The Lock Dam Preservation Association donated $10,000 for the Lock Dam rebuild project that increased the dam’s height and depth to eliminate breaching, Denico indicated.

“Lock Dam was a wood-faced earthen structure,” he said. “The wood structure was rotted and falling away. In spring, water would flow right over the earthworks. The dam wasn’t high enough, and some of the structural parts were gone.”

If Lock Dam was lost, water would not flow out of Telos Lake because of differences in dam base heights.

Some 2,500 cubic yards of blasted rock were placed on the old dam base to eliminate the breaching problem. A contractor blasted rock near Indian Lake, and drivers and 10-wheel trucks donated by Gardner Timber and Viking Lumber hauled the rock to Lock Dam. An excavator and operator then placed the rock on the dam. Dysart’s donated all the fuel used for this project, Denico noted.

At Churchill Dam, the bearing protectors had not been replaced on the old gate lifters when they were reinstalled on the new dam, he indicated.

“The bearings were right out in the weather, and it was only a matter of time before they would fail. We designed a bearing protector system and helped BPL employees install the 10 units on the dam.”

Looking back on the dam-related projects, Denico commented that Telos Dam is in functional, working order, except for one remaining gate to replace.

“This final gate will be installed in the fall of 2012. The other two dams are in good shape,” he said.

The Lock Dam Preservation Association is currently helping rebuild “a short section of The Tram,” a 3,000-foot tramway between Chamberlain and Eagle lakes, he said.

 

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