2016-04-22 / Letters

River discussions should be civil, respectful

To the editor:

Let’s set the record straight. In some recent letters appearing on these pages, we’ve essentially been accused of lying to and deceiving the people of Kennebunk. We thought we should respond.

The Mousam and Kennebunk Rivers Alliance started in 2008. It grew out of local concerns about the water quality in the two rivers, highlighted by the impact that a composting operation had on the Kenne- bunk River.

Meetings were also being held by the Watershed Council for Kennebunk, Sanford, and Wells, a group that included the town planners from the three towns, KKWWD, and several representatives from state agencies, and was focused largely on the Mousam River. John Burrows was serving on the Maine Rivers board and was working with others to address many related issues.

This led to our planning and hosting a May, 2009 conference at the Wells Reserve, “The Mousam and Kennebunk Rivers: Past, Present and Future.” It was sponsored by Maine Rivers, which is an organization that works with local groups around the state to improve the health of Maine’s rivers. Maine Rivers had (and continues to have) one full-time employee, Landis Hudson, who does her best to inspire people around the state to care about the health of their rivers.

The local group that formed here included people from Kennebunk and also from other towns in the Mousam and Kennebunk River watersheds. Landis continued to participate periodically as her schedule permitted, but MKRA was always a group of local people concerned about the rivers.

In 2011, we learned that KLPD had retained the engineering firm Wright Pierce to study the dams, and we began to discuss how the addition of fish passage or the removal of the dams could improve the health of the river. We met with the KLPD trustees in September 2011 and discussed what some of the options might be. We stressed that the issues were complex, that it was important that they work to engage the community as soon as possible, and that whatever reports and relevant information they had should also be made available to the public.

KLPD however had difficulty moving forward with the process, and was reluctant to release the reports they had. We offered to help line up technical and financial assistance to help KLPD assess all the issues involved in making an informed decision about the dams. This was not a quid-proquo, as some have suggested, but rather a proposal that would have made the decision making process more open and transparent, and more accessible to everyone. It would have enabled some of KLPD’s study costs to be shared by federal and private resources, as has been done in many places across the country, instead of being borne solely by KLPD ratepayers.

We continued to meet with KLPD periodically, and seek the release of their reports. We also did our best to raise local awareness, making local presentations at the Wells Reserve, Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, the Kennebunk Library and the Rotary Club, among others, to work to get people interested in the rivers, and let them know about the water quality and the FERC relicensing process. KLPD hosted its first public meeting on the dams in July 2013 and a second one in March 2015. But there were many questions that KLPD was not ready to address, and people asked us to help provide information about the options.

In response, we hosted an informational forum at town hall in May 2015, bringing in two outside experts along with two with local knowledge to provide as much info and answer as many questions as possible. Our intent was not to sell dam removal but rather to answer whatever related questions people had, to help the process move forward.

There’s no question that there are some people in town who would like to keep the dams and impoundments as they are, and there are some people in town who would like to add fishways or remove the dams and restore a nine mile stretch of free flowing river. There are many pros and cons to weigh with any of the possible scenarios, and the costs will certainly be a big consideration for many. But why don’t we discuss these possibilities and considerations with respect? We are not lying about anything or trying to deceive anyone. We’ve lived here for decades and raised our families here. Without much difficulty, one could easily find countless people in town who know us and can confirm that we are not trying to deceive or con anyone.

While opinions will differ on the aesthetics of a free-flowing river versus impoundments, the science of removing dams and restoring natural processes, habitats and fisheries is beyond question. Restoration will benefit the native birds and mammals that reside in the river corridor by improving water quality, diversifying aquatic and riparian habitats, and increasing the forage base of sea-run fish. No species will be lost or harmed, except for perhaps a few non-native invasive fish.

There are many outside groups and agencies that think restoring rivers are a good thing and have tremendous experience in what’s involved, but they don’t speak for us and we don’t speak for them. We have not been funded by outside groups. We are not circulating misleading information. There is not some great, nefarious environmental conspiracy going on. We’d much prefer to continue to have intelligent, respectful conversations about these important issues as we’ve been doing for the last five years. That’s certainly the most productive way to spend the limited time and energy that any of us have to devote to this, and we’re sure that’s what most people in town would prefer as well.

John R. J. Burrows, Kevin Flynn,
Monica and Bill Grabin
Kennebunk

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