The Caribou Parks and Recreation Department is planning to repair the Collins Pond dam and install a fishway after federal officials survey and create potential designs for the structure. Currently, the state of the dam has led to low water levels in the stream connecting the pond with the Aroostook River. Credit: Christopher Bouchard | BDN

CARIBOU, Maine — It will be at least another year before construction begins thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a fishway will be installed and the more than century-old Collins Pond dam will be repaired.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife told Caribou officials that constructing a fishway would give the fish a means to reach the Aroostook River — an important trout fishery.

To help make that happen, DIF&W will work with the U.S. Geological Survey to do the fishway design and ground survey at no cost to the city.

A fishway has a very gradual rise for fish to climb while also providing areas where fish can take breaks as they ascend.

The city’s original plan was to just repair the old dam, which has been damaged by ice and rot and has not been doing its job of keeping water levels up in Collins Pond and in Caribou Stream, which flows from the pond into the Aroostook River, Caribou Parks and Recreation Superintendent Gary Marquis said. The cost would have been $15,000 to $20,000 to only repair the dam.

The current dam is about 20 feet tall, and a straight fishway would stretch out from the back of the S.W. Collins parking lot to the bridge on Main Street, a distance of about 500 feet, Marquis said.

“A lot of times the [fishways are] built out of concrete, so we’re going to look at the channel and see if we can reroute certain areas for pools of water so the fish can take breaks before going up to the next level,” he said.

He said estimates to build a fishway are just shy of $100,000, but he is looking at a less expensive approach of utilizing the natural rocks to build the pools and switch-backs of the structure. He said the USGS ground survey will help determine where rocks could be moved to create the most efficient fishway.

The total cost to repair the dam and install the fishway is estimated at $125,000.

In addition to affecting the fishery, the low water levels caused by the malfunctioning dam also hurt the seasonal migration of Canada geese. Marquis said the pond had been world renowned for its goose population when water levels were higher.

“Right now it looks like a lawn that’s not getting mowed,” Marquis said.

The recreation department is considering a grant that could cover half of the project costs, but the city also has been putting money into an account for it.

Marquis said the ultimate goal after water is back in the pond is to build a primitive walking path from the overlook deck where people could fish or view the vista.

And while he said the best way to bring water back into the pond would be to dredge it, the cost is prohibitive at more than $1 million.

The U.S. Geological Survey and DIF&W had offered to come to Caribou in the spring of 2020 to conduct a ground survey and create designs for different fishway structures. Parks and Rec held off on repairing the dam in anticipation of this work.

“And then COVID hits,” Marquis said. “Obviously it stopped a lot of things, but I’m not going to push my luck when I can get someone to design this for free. So I have to be patient, and we’re hoping to see something on the ground next summer.”

The USGS officials, one of which is based in Massachusetts and another in Maryland, are unable to travel to Aroostook County under the current restrictions put in place by Gov. Janet Mills’ civil state of emergency.

Marquis said he hoped the ground survey and fishway designs could be done this fall if the pandemic eases its hold. If that happens, the project could go out to bid in early 2021 and construction could begin in mid-July of next year.

Such projects are typically done July 15-Oct.15, when water levels are at their lowest and there is the least possibility of damaging the environment, he said.