2016-02-12 / Letters

Photos of river are not misleading

To the editor:

The photos included in the “Re- Introducing the Mousam” ad recently run by the Mousam and Kennebunk Rivers Alliance (MKRA) were not intentionally misleading, as was asserted in a recent letter to the editor. I took two of these photos during the November 2015 drawdown of the Kesslen Dam impoundment and they clearly show that the river in those areas did not turn into a muddy ditch, as has been stated repeatedly in the media and at various public meetings in recent months.

These photos are but two examples of the diversity of water depths and conditions that will exist in a naturally flowing Mousam River – more can be seen on the MKRA Facebook page – and are much more representative of the river as a whole than the infamous image of muck immediately above the dam, muck which will quickly revegetate or disperse following dam removal.

During the November drawdown, a friend and I paddled the Mousam from the Twine Mill Dam all the way down to Lafayette Center. We did not see anyone else make the same trip that day, which is a shame because what we experienced is dramatically different from what has been said would happen on a Mousam without dams.

The paddle began on the free-flowing stretch of river below Twine Mill, which is an absolutely gorgeous piece of river to paddle on or walk next to through the mature forest that exists there. After paddling a while, we hit the top of the Kesslen impoundment; the water here was about 1.5 to 2 feet lower than under full impoundment conditions. The river bottom was sandy and the banks were also predominantly sand, though covered by an inch or two of organic material that looked like muck from a distance.

We continued to paddle downstream and reached an area of fairly deep water that extended from above I-95 to a point hundreds of yards downstream from the highway overpass. This was an area where ledge was visible in key places and the bottom was primarily sand and some gravel and rock.

Much of this area was too deep for us to wade in safely given the cold water temperatures, as the depth was well over 4 feet deep. As we moved downstream, we encountered shallower and swifter moving stretches of river and also encountered slower, deeper sections that ranged from 2.5 to more than 4 feet deep. There was great diversity of water depths all along our paddle.

What was most interesting to us was that on the day we paddled and under the flow conditions we had, it would have been quite possible to paddle upstream from Sayward Street up past I-95 with little difficulty. We are not saying that that will always be the case, especially when flows are really high or super low, but it was the case on that November day.

The only times we needed to exit our kayaks were when we needed to get around areas where fallen trees were blocking our way. We never had to carry our boats due to shallow water.

While there were a few pockets of muck in various places on our paddle, this was far from the dominant characteristic of the river and most of this muck was only inches deep when probed. We also observed sand, gravel, cobbles, rock, boulders, ledge and clay and the most abundant of these was beautiful golden sand, which was the primary material on the river bottom and the riverbanks.

The most unsightly area was clearly from the Kesslen Dam upstream to the natural ledges at Sayward Street and no one would argue that this was a beautiful sight during the drawdown. However, what is there now will not last long after dam removal and we will soon see the real Mousam River.

The Kesslen Dam sits in the middle of what was once a quarter mile long series of small ledge drops and cascades; historic reports indicate that this was a beautiful and tranquil spectacle and it will quickly re-emerge following dam removal.

Fish would have absolutely no difficulty making their way up a free-flowing river. People will still be able to swim in certain locations and do so in much nicer conditions than the stagnant water of the impoundments. Kayaking and canoeing will be able to continue, though under different conditions, and we will gain white-water paddling between Sayward Street and Rogers Pond during high flows.

As has been stated a number of times by GM Todd Shea and the Trustees, KLPD does not control or alter the flow of the river. The same flow that can be seen beside Rogers Pond or in the beautiful stretch of river below Twine Mill will be the same flow in the entire stretch of a restored Mousam River running through Kennebunk. Flows in the river will vary from season to season and thus the width and depth of the river will vary accordingly. This is what happens in natural river systems and it will actually be a great improvement for the river ecosystem compared to what we have now.

This will lead to myriad environmental benefits, including improved water quality, natural sediment movement and nutrient flow, habitat connectivity and complexity, reduced risk of flooding, and better conditions for native birds, fish, and wildlife, both in the river and the riparian corridor and far downstream to the estuary and ocean, all at a cost that would be considerably less than the costs that would be associated with retaining the dams, with or without them generating power.

This is why a large and diverse number of organizations have voiced support for dam removal on the Mousam. Science-based conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Maine Audubon and federal natural resource agencies like the United States Fish and Wildlife Service don’t support initiatives that destroy the environment.

These and many other organizations representing conservation and environmental interests, sportsman’s groups, fishing and paddling guides, and commercial fishermen, as well as Maine citizens from outside of Kennebunk have written in support of restoring the Mousam, but they are not part of the MKRA.

They of course all have a right to express their opinions since the Mousam River and its fish and wildlife are a public resource, something which seems to have been lost in this debate.

The assertions that the MKRA is “made up of a large number of out-of-towners” or that we are “a well-funded special interest group from away” are pretty humorous to us, but wholly inaccurate. We are a group of several hundred people – volunteers, funders, and supporters – of whom more than 90 percent live in Kennebunk and the rest are primarily from surrounding communities.

Unfortunately, many of our supporters are, understandably, a little gun-shy at the moment about expressing their thoughts on this topic. The personal attacks that have been quickly surfacing in response to any suggestion that removing the dams might be a good thing have been pretty daunting.

For several years, the issue of dam removal has been talked about in Kennebunk and the conversation has been cordial and relatively pleasant until the last six months or so. We feared that this might happen and hope that our community will go back to focusing on gathering and understanding the facts of the situation before making up their minds about what should happen to the river.

John Burrows

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