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Veazie councilors to weigh in on dam powerhouse reuse

R.W. Estela | BDN
R.W. Estela | BDN
Demolition crews breach the Veazie Dam on July 22, 2013.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

VEAZIE, Maine — Potential reuses for the former powerhouse building that once was part of the Veazie Dam complex will be the topic of a Town Council workshop set for Monday night.

Town councilors are scheduled to tour the century-old building at 4 p.m. and then return to the municipal building for a 6:30 p.m. workshop, according to documents posted on the town’s website.

The powerhouse and dam were once used to generate electricity, according to a local history of the site that Town Manager Mark Leonard shared with members of the council last week.

In July, however, work began to remove the dam — one of the few remaining impediments to the return of native sea-run fish to the Penobscot River — as part of Penobscot River Restoration Trust ’s river restoration project, a joint effort of the Penobscot Indian Nation, six other nongovernmental organizations, the state of Maine, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and hydropower companies.

“It’s still super preliminary at this point,” Laura Rose Day, executive director of the restoration trust, said Friday evening in a telephone interview.

The trust, which owns the property, has yet to determine if the building is so deteriorated that it will have to be demolished or if it can be redeveloped, Rose Day said.

“Possibly the building might be repurposed consistent with the goals of the [river restoration] project. Obviously, it can’t go to anything that would be inconsistent with the project,” she said, adding that any potential reuse could not result in polluting the river or otherwise conflict with the trust’s goals.

“We still have to talk to some [of the partner] agencies about some of the conditions that could potentially go to another party and then decide if they want to potentially explore that,” she said.

“We’re basically looking to know whether they want to even consider whether that might be a possibility for them, whether they’d have any interest in the building and then when we knew that, we’d see what the various agency partners [would like to see happens],” she said. “I think it would all just depend what that looks like.”

Rose Day also said that if the building isn’t suited to reuse, the site could be used as riverside park space.

Supporters of the river restoration project say that removing the century-old Veazie Dam, which spans the river from Veazie to Eddington, will help restore about 225 acres of in-stream habitat and about 65 acres of streamside habitat, while enhancing the connectivity and functional value of 188,000 acres of wetland habitats for native sea-run fish, including endangered Atlantic salmon, endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon and eight other fish species.

The Great Works Dam in Bradley was the first to go as part of the project.

Once the Veazie Dam, the lowermost barrier on the Penobscot River, is removed and a dam in Howland is bypassed, sea-run fisheries will gain access to more than 1,000 miles of upstream habitat that has been closed to their predecessors for more than a century, according to Rose Day. Sargent Corp. of Stillwater was chosen to take on the Veazie Dam removal, which could last into next summer.

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