March 31, 2014
Sappi Fine Paper North America, the City of Westbrook, Friends of the Presumpscot River, the Conservation Law Foundation, and state and federal regulators, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Department of Marine Resources, have agreed on a plan to evaluate two potential designs for fish passage at the Saccarappa Falls dam.
"We are committed to a collaborative and open process to explore alternative fish passage designs to allow sea-run fish to move beyond the Saccarappa Falls dam," said Donna Cassese, managing director of the Westbrook Mill. "We see this as a major step forward for the community and an opportunity to work together in good faith to achieve our shared goals, which include ensuring safe, timely and effective fish passage."
The agreement includes a cost-sharing commitment between Westbrook and Sappi to fund a third-party consultant who will create a design for a "nature-like" fish passage. Sappi has recently submitted plans to federal and state regulators seeking approval for installation of a Denil "fish ladder" at Saccarappa Falls dam, but all parties have agreed to seek delay of those proceedings so that an alternative approach can be explored together. In addition, the work will evaluate the inclusion of recreational features, including potential use by kayakers, as requested by the city.
"We remain excited and hopeful about the future of the river. We think this agreement represents a common sense and consensus based effort by the parties to bring about the best possible outcome in terms of fish passage, recreation and responsible environmental stewardship," said Mayor Colleen Hilton.
Sappi will contribute up to $150,000 for the work, while Westbrook's Environmental Improvement Corporation will contribute $50,000.
"Ensuring that American shad, Atlantic salmon, and river herring are able to pass above Saccarappa Falls each spring is a key component for restoring sea-run fish to the Presumpscot," noted Michael Shaughnessy, President of Friends of the Presumpscot River. "This agreement is an important step forward," he said.
The agreement also confirms that the parties will support a two year deadline extension for the construction of the fish passage to May 2017, allowing for consultation with resource agencies and approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the final design, and postponing Sappi's plans to surrender its license to operate the dam.
"Even though this agreement delays the implementation of fish passage at the Saccarappa dam, getting the optimal design for fish passage that is effective, efficient and enduring is critical," said Sean Mahoney, Executive Vice-President of the Conservation Law Foundation.