2015-10-30 / Letters

Writers support freefl owing Mousam River

To the editor:

The Kennebunk Light and Power District (KLPD) recently released a report comparing the costs and benefits of various alternatives for the three dams it owns on the Mousam River whose Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license expires in 2022.

Relicensing is an expensive and arduous process and their commissioned report is designed to help KLPD Trustees and ratepayers decide whether to go through this process for these inefficient and nearobsolete dams or to pursue a different alternative.

KLPD trustees owe local residents an inclusive discussion on the various options and an informed decision based on facts not fear. As members of the Mousam and Kennebunk Rivers Alliance (MKRA), we have been advocating for an open and transparent approach for more than four years and are happy to see that information is finally beginning to flow to the public and us.

It has always been our hope that our community will engage in thoughtful dialogue over the fate of these dams.

We wish to highlight some critical findings in the recent report that strongly support our longstanding position that Alternative No. 4, dam removal, is the most environmentally beneficial and least expensive option, and the one that provides the greatest benefit to the most people throughout our community and beyond.

Keeping the dams will cost millions more than removing them.

If KLPD chooses to retain the option of making power at their dams, they are obligated to relicense and bring the dams into compliance with modern standards of operation. Consistent with myriad decisions from across the country, FERC will require upstream and downstream fish passage at each dam.

The report estimates this cost to be between $1.9 to $4.8 million dollars, depending upon the species targeted to pass over the dam. Most projects require passage of all native sea-run fish species and important resident species, that for the Mousam include American shad, alewives, blueback herring, brook trout, and American eel. Failure to pass American shad into their historic habitat will not be optional, thus the high-end of $4.8 million is most likely.

Dam removal is the least expensive alternative at just $1.5 million. And as has been the case at scores of dam removals across Maine and the northeast, KLPD and its ratepayers are likely to pay only 20-50% of the total costs. MKRA and our hundreds of supporters in the community are committed to raising public and private funds for all aspects of dam removal, thereby keeping the cost to KLPD ratepayers as low as possible.

Fish passage does not always work.

Even the best engineered fish passage systems often pose a significant challenge to some species. FERC and state and federal agencies will require that each target fish species pass the dam at a given rate, usually at 90 percent or higher.

If the facility fails to meet those targets, ratepayers will bear the cost to study, assess, and fix the problems and this can be expensive and time-consuming. The KLPD report concedes: “…. evidence suggests that even well-designed and constructed fishways may still present a barrier to passage of shad… In general, dam removal provides unimpeded, more effective passage upstream for anadromous and catadromous species than fish passage.”

Maintenance of dam infrastructure will be ongoing and expensive.

Just maintaining effective fish passage is tricky, resulting in increased operating expenses, and the report estimates that these operating costs will exceed the revenue that the dams will produce. Remember, the three dams only produce 1-2 percent of the total KLPD power supply right now.

The dams haven’t produced significantly more power than that for many decades and both the economics and physical constraints of the river simply do not allow for a substantial increase in power generation. Those are expensive kilowatts that will easily be replaced through energy conservation initiatives and the pending public/private partnership that will bring a major solar power facility to Kennebunk in the near future.

KLPD is not alone in grappling with this dam issue. As our nation’s dam infrastructure ages, and the myriad negative impacts associated with dams gain greater understanding, there has been a growing movement to remove those dams that pose the greatest threats to public safety, those causing the greatest degradation to the environment, and those where the cost of continued operations and maintenance doesn’t make good economic sense. Thus, we have seen major corporations, government agencies, and private citizens opt to remove their dams, and we have seen a renaissance of our rivers as a result.

Clean Water Act compliance is required.

A significant component of the FERC relicensing process is aimed at ensuring compliance with the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). One aspect of this is the mandate that water in the impoundments created by dams adequately supports native fish species and other aquatic organisms. The KLPD report recognizes a potential problem: “As a general rule, cold water gamefish, such as trout and salmon, require cooler water and higher dissolved oxygen than are present within the impoundments during the summer months.”

If the dams stay in place, will the chemical and physical conditions in these unnatural impoundments support native species? Also, if fish passage at any of the dams fails to pass any of the species that are currently present in the river below the Kesslen dam, will compliance with the CWA be in jeopardy?

A free-flowing river will enhance Kennebunk.

Dam removal will increase recreational opportunities on the river for canoeing and kayaking and restore significant wildlife habitat in the riparian zone. As has been the experience elsewhere, we will see increased populations of native fish, birds and wildlife as the habitat that they evolved in for millennia before the dams is restored. This will bring more anglers, birders, nature enthusiasts and paddlers to the region. The increase in sea-run fish like alewives will also help to feed critical ocean species, including cod, haddock, seals, whales, sea birds, striped bass, blue fish, and tuna.

We understand the perception that losing the impoundment in one’s backyard may lead to a decline in property values.

However, all of the independent studies that have been done on the issue of dam removal and property values show this simply isn’t true. Studies by top-notch economists in Maine, Wisconsin, Oregon and elsewhere have demonstrated that proximity to free-flowing, healthy rivers and intact, high-quality riparian corridors increase property values, whereas proximity to impoundments often penalizes home values.

From Old Falls to the sea, let the Mousam Run free.

For all the reasons above, and many more that we do not have the space to list but are happy to discuss, we believe that dam removal is the best alternative for KLPD ratepayers, current property owners along the river, and our community.

We encourage residents to share your support for a freeflowing Mousam River with KLPD’s trustees at the Nov. 16 public meeting.

Bill Grabin, Kevin Flynn, Barry Braddick, John
Burrows, Alex Mendelsohn

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