WASHBURN, Maine — The heart of town will look a lot different in coming months as state officials oversee removal of the Mill Pond dam and berm.
Funding for removal of the structures, which have been in place for nearly a century, was announced last week during a meeting of local, county and state officials at the Washburn Town Hall.
“We’ve finalized funding, with the pulling of the dam being the big deal,” said Nick Archer, northern Maine regional office director for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“We received $85,000 through the Supplemental Environmental Project Fund through DEP. It won’t cost the town anything to remove the dam and berm,” he said.
Archer said the project was expected to get underway Feb. 18 — weather permitting — with Soderberg Construction doing the work. Completion is expected to take about five weeks.
“Restoring Salmon Brook will allow fish species access to the stream for spawning. This will benefit both salmon and trout,” said Frank Frost, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“New habitat is only obtained through these methods,” noted Randall Spencer of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “These communities up and down the [Aroostook River] have expressed a commitment to preserving Atlantic salmon.”
“I’m looking forward to being a part of the process,” added Scott Thompson, a representative of the group Atlantic Salmon for Northern Maine.
Town Council Chairman Keith Brown said removal of the dam and berm was necessary due to safety concerns.
“Safety’s been an issue, which will be taken care of with the removal of the dam,” said Brown. The aging dam and berm were beginning to wear in places, posing a risk of flooding and possible injury, should someone be traversing either in the event of a collapse.
Archer said the state funds will be disbursed through the Northern Maine Development Commission.
“NMDC has volunteered to handle the money, with Jay [Kamm] seeing that the bills get paid,” Archer said.
The group discussed how removed materials, including dirt from the berm, would be handled. Archer said some will be stored near the Trail Runners Snowmobile clubhouse, for use on trail maintenance, while some will be used as fill.
“We’ll use some fill on the west side. By 2015 we should know where the stream will go,” said Archer.
Brown said the footbridge and access across the berm will be eliminated. Town officials are authorizing use of the Hines Street bridge for snowmobiles and ATVs to access the trail system.
Lee Thomas, a northern Maine region member of the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said measures are being taken to ensure safety in the event of any type of spill from construction equipment.
“As a safety precaution, a spill kit will be on site. We ask that equipment be checked regularly and hay bales be kept on the premises, in the event anything lets loose,” said Thomas. “If something does happen, notify the Washburn Fire Department immediately.”
Officials are optimistic about the future of the site, which is being restored to the state it was in back in the 1800s. The DEP funding will not cover the cost of restoring the park itself. But removal of the berm will open a stretch of about 20 miles of free-flowing water for trout and salmon, which will be suitable for fall spawning and as a refuge in summer months.
“We want to make this as simple as possible. This won’t be the last such project. We already have another project in mind,” said Archer.
Washburn Town Manager Bev Turner sees the dam removal as a positive advancement for the town, which has been trying for years to do something with Mill Pond to create a gathering spot for residents and visitors alike. She sees the stream restoration as a way to attract fishermen and more.
“It will be an ideal location to fish, picnic and enjoy the outdoors. With the pond — though they were pretty, it’s been hard to control the geese. This will alleviate that situation and create an area suitable for recreation,” said Turner.