EDDINGTON, Maine — There was no media throng or ceremony on the banks of the Penobscot River Thursday morning. There were no politicians or well-wishers like there had been in July, when the ceremonial breaching of the Veazie Dam was celebrated.
But this breach — removal of a rock and gravel cofferdam that held back water and allowed Sargent Corporation to remove the actual Veazie Dam over the past three months — was a significant event for those involved with the Penobscot River Restoration Project.
“The breach today is the end of the dam as we know it,” said Laura Rose Day, executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. “This is the beginning of really opening up the river all the way across from bank to bank … every several yards that this equipment moves this cofferdam back is another step toward having a wide-open river here. And this will be the first time in a couple of centuries.”
July’s official breaching was well attended, and visitors watched as crews knocked a hole in the concrete facade, allowing a relatively light flow of water. Thursday’s breach of the cofferdam was much more spectacular; by late morning, a sizeable chunk of the temporary dam on the Eddington side had been removed, and the river below was a raging torrent.
Rose Day said the riverbed below the cofferdam on the Eddington side of the river is now in a natural state, free of the dam or dam debris, for the first time in generations.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project is a landmark conservation effort that has been more than a decade in the works. By removing two dams — Great Works and Veazie — and providing fish passage at a third in Howland, the project will open 1,000 miles of upstream habitat for fish that have been unable to reach those stretches for 200 years.
Rose Day said work at the Veazie Dam site is running a bit ahead of schedule after earlier delays because of a wet summer. The breach of the cofferdam wasn’t originally expected to happen until next week.
Work will continue through the fall, and crews will be allowed to return to finish up any work in spring 2014, if needed. A fish lift is currently under construction in Milford, according to Rose Day, to replace the previous Atlantic salmon-counting trap at the Veazie Dam. The Milford Dam is about 10 miles upriver, Rose Day said.
“Now most of the main dam structure is gone, and all that remains in the river is the large cofferdam that allowed them to do that work,” Rose Day said. “Sargent Corporation is now removing the cofferdam from the Eddington side and extending that cofferdam on the other side, [so that the few remaining bridge structures on the Veazie side of the river can be removed].”