2016-04-01 / Letters

Removing dams has potential for great cost to community

To the editor:

The following is a letter we sent to The Kennebunk Light and Power Company in January 2016; To Todd Shea and the trustees of Kennebunk Light and Power District:

So the dam was removed on Goff Mill Brook in 45 minutes after years and years and years of having a small dam holding the water back from pouring into the Kennebunk River. During those many years (people differ on the length of time as there were different dams there at different times ... maybe well over 100 years or more ....), wildlife created homes, breeding, and feeding grounds along the banks and in the waters. The habitat was rich with birds, fish, frogs, turtles, eels (which the experts said weren’t there but would come when the dam came down), mammals, plant life ... and even humans lived along the banks and found recreation on the water ... fresh water ... and the humans found peace and joy in being a part of the serenity and the wilderness and all so close to the busyness of the towns. The water rose and fell with the seasons and the environment had a healthy and productive wildlife and plant life ... all in harmony ... vibrant and rhythmic … birds of prey, song birds, wading birds, trout, numerous kinds of turtles, many sorts of frogs, beavers, otters, muskrat, fox, mink, merganser ducks, wood ducks, mallards, kingfishers, black crowned night heron, green heron, great blue heron, sea gulls, many many species seen and many that escaped our view. This was a vibrant, healthy habitat that supported hundreds and included humans. Our lives were the better for it.

With the removal of the dam, came a decimation of this vital, vibrant environment. The water rushed out to sea to contribute to the ever growing concerns of coastal flooding and erosion, the banks were rapidly exposed and the beaver tunnels could no longer be reached by the beavers who disappeared within in the first avalanche of rushing water, the little eels lay flopping and dying on the exposed mud of the back water coves, the lily pads lay ruined and the water level dropped 6 to 8 feet. (Although the expert that presumably studied the Goff Mill Brook said the water was no more than 4 feet deep anywhere along this stretch was wrong about that along with many other claims made at the meetings.) The release did provide a banquet for many, many birds where the water rushed out below River Road before entering the main part of the Kennebunk River as fish, eels, frogs, turtles (that had just hatched) were good for a final feast for those fortunate enough to have survived. But the experts were long gone by then. They had cheered, packed up their equipment, and had left within minutes of the downing of the dam. No follow-up....they’d accomplished their goal … the dam was down … whatever happened next was not their problem.

No one cared about the existing wildlife except those of us who lived along the brook and marveled at the workings of nature. At a habitat that had built up over many, many years and that was strong and healthy. No one cared that we would be releasing fresh water out to sea, and that if all dams are removed and the rivers, brooks, and streams are emptied into the ocean, this may impact the swelling ocean waters. No. What they said is that some fish and eels would come up the brook. They said it would be a different environment but they didn’t know just what. They wanted the brook to run free. Why? It was doing very nicely. They did not care about the people either. They wanted it to be like it was before people lived here. Why? This was not a polluted body of water. This habitat was valuable. The wildlife was valuable.

So what have we now? It has been six months since the dam was downed on Sept. 18, 2015. In that time, we have seen three mallards, one great blue who came to polish off what was left that was trapped in rocks now exposed, one red fox who explored the vacant beaver dens on the opposite bank. The water rushes past and acts like a storm drain. The beavers, otters, muskrats, and all the other listed animals are gone. We have no idea what the survival rate was but there are no sightings of frogs, turtles, or fish. Aquatic plants were destroyed and neighbors report that large, old trees are falling in with the collapse of the banks. We are aware this is winter now but we have lived along this brook for 12 years and our parents for 18 years before us, so we know what normal is and this is not normal.

It would seem prudent to retain our freshwater options. We may say, “Oh, not here,” when it comes to drought or additional water needs as we have seen in other parts of this country and the world. What makes it more desirable to let the water rush away; really, more desirable? We do not know what will happen when the present eco-systems are destroyed. We are replacing vital, known habitats and wildlife and human homes and values with the unknown that we truly do not know will be improvements. This decision impacts everyone.

On Goff Mill Brook (which was once called Middle River because it is the size of one, for sure), we are losing freshwater daily and the salt water that we were told would come up does not seem to be able to make the climb up from the river. This seems like a big experiment to us that has cost us all dearly. This was very poorly managed. We know that there is public grant money for the tearing down of dams. We know that there are people who are funded to see that the dams are down. We know that there very well may be rivers, brooks, and streams that will benefit by dam destruction, but we do not believe that Goff Mill Brook was one of them and we warn you that you are proposing a dangerous experimentation at potentially great cost to your community if you take down those dams on the Mousam River.

Judy and John Andrews

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