November 16, 2019
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A Down East mill wants to walk away from the dam it owns. The feds won’t let that happen.

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Forest City dam on East Grand Lake. Federal regulatory officials have scheduled a public meeting for Aug. 28, 2019, in Danforth to discuss technical aspects about the operation of the dam, which is owned by Woodland Pulp LLC. The pulp mill is trying to surrender its license for the dam, which it says is too expensive to maintain and operate.

A federal agency has scheduled a meeting for next month on a controversial proposal by a Baileyville pulp mill to walk away from a dam it owns that many say is crucial to maintaining the water levels — and the economy — of one of the most popular recreational fishing destinations in the state.

In late 2016, Woodland Pulp asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to surrender its license to operate the Forest City hydroelectric dam on East Grand Lake. The company said the cost of maintaining and operating the dam outweighed the benefit of using the electricity it generated. Company officials have said meeting the federal agency’s requirements for operating the dam would cost the company $6 million more than it would make from any power generation during the 30-year life of the dam license, which was renewed in 2015.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is hosting next month’s meeting, has been unwilling to allow the pulp mill to walk away, however, and lakefront property owners on East Grand Lake have said proper maintenance and operation of the dam must continue. At stake, they say, are East Grand Lake’s ability to keep attracting anglers and outdoor enthusiasts and, potentially, the fate of more than 2,000 seasonal camps and cottages around the lake’s edge.

East Grand Lake, a 16,000-acre impoundment of the St. Croix River, which straddles the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, exists because of the dam Woodland Pulp wants to relinquish.

Next month’s meeting has been set for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at East Grand High School in Danforth.

The purpose of the meeting is to gather technical information about the dam, such as whether the dam could be operated differently, whether a dam operator could meet the federal license requirements at a lower cost or whether the dam could be decommissioned without causing an undue adverse impact on the people who live and work in its vicinity.

Representatives from Woodland Pulp, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine departments of Environmental Protection and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are expected to attend the meeting to participate in the panel discussion. The public will have the opportunity to comment after the discussion.

In addition to the potential effects on East Grand Lake itself, property owners in the area also say that lakes and other water bodies downstream of East Grand could be more prone to flooding if the dam were left unattended.

At one point, Woodland Pulp proposed transferring ownership of the dam to the state and placing it under Inland Fisheries and Wildlife management — though the company would continue to cover the dam’s expenses for 15 years — but that plan was scrapped after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission insisted that, even if the state owned the dam, it would have to adhere to federal licensing requirements.

 



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