Four projects meant to help migratory fish could soon receive an $800,000 boost from a legal settlement the state and federal governments negotiated with companies that owned two former oil terminals in Hampden that spilled oil into the river between 1973 and 2008.
In July 2016, Chevron Corp. and other previous owners of the terminals agreed to pay $880,000 as part of a legal settlement over the spills from the terminals.
The spills polluted a habitat used by endangered Atlantic salmon, shortnose sturgeon and other species, and rendered groundwater in that area unusable as a water supply, according to a draft of the plan for distributing the settlement funds.
The state and federal governments have proposed using the settlement money on four restoration projects in Charleston, Hampden, Brooksville and Sedgwick meant to help migratory fish such as Atlantic salmon, wild brook trout and alewives travel upstream. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is now circulating the proposal to collect public input on it.
The greatest portion of the settlement funds, $380,000, would go to the Atlantic Salmon Federation, which is helping the town of Charleston — about 25 miles north of Bangor — and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service replace five undersized culverts that carry the Crooked Brook and its tributaries under public roads.
By adding larger culverts, the project is meant to allow wild brook trout, Atlantic salmon and other species to reach an additional 12.6 miles of stream habitat they cannot currently access.
The next-largest chunk of the settlement funds, $250,000, would go to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which hopes to restore passages in the Hancock County town of Brooksville that make it easier for alewives to access Parker Pond from Mill Stream and Walker Pond from the Bagaduce River.
A third payment of $125,000 would help The Nature Conservancy replace a failing culvert that allows Snow Brook to cross under Route 15 in Sedgwick, just south of Blue Hill. Fish are unable to pass through the existing culvert, as it lets out more than 2 feet above the water. Replacing it would give alewives access to another 5.5 miles of the waterway, according to the restoration plan.
The last payment of $45,000 would go toward replacing an undersized culvert on Sucker Brook in Hampden, a freshwater stream that flows into the Penobscot River a half-mile downstream from the terminals that originally spilled oil into the river. The installation of a larger culvert on property owned by Lane Construction would reduce erosion and help species such as fish and turtles head upstream.
The rest of the settlement funds, $80,000 would be set aside to evaluate and oversee the projects, according to the draft restoration plan.
The two terminals began operating along the west bank of the Penobscot River in the early 1900s and had documented oil discharges between 1973 and 2008, according to the draft restoration plan.
Since the U.S. Coast Guard discovered an oil sheen spreading from the facilities in 2006, authorities have removed about 38,620 gallons of oil from the ground in that area.
One of the terminals was previously owned by Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and the other by Texaco Inc., according to the restoration plan. The property is still used for bulk oil storage and distribution. But Gulf Oil LP, which eventually acquired the terminal complex at 799 Maine Road North, dismantled it and removed four above-ground storage tanks from the site in 2014.
In 2011, Chevron paid $900,000 as part of another settlement for its Hampden site spilling an estimated 140,000 gallons of oil into the Penobscot River from the 1950s to the 1980s. The town of Hampden received $520,000 of that amount and used it to build Turtle Head Cove Municipal Park.