2016-06-17 / Letters

Facilitator recycled ‘inaccurate claims’

To the editor:

As participants in the recent facilitation sessions arranged by David Wayne, we were quite surprised by his recent letter in the Post in which he not only appeared to violate the principles that guide professional facilitators, but also recycled various inaccurate claims about the dams and the Mousam River.

It’s too bad that he did not simply report factually on the issues expressed by both sides and the areas of agreement that were identified in those sessions. He stressed in his letter that he was being transparent by stating he is “an avid canoeist and confirmed environmentalist,” but he failed to reveal that he lives on the Kesslen impoundment. If he wanted to be transparent, this is obviously the first and most crucial point he should have made.

Reading his letter, one would think that he reached his conclusions only after careful consideration of the issues following the facilitated discussion, but that was not the case. Just prior to the facilitation, we learned that he was one of the first people to submit strong comments to KLPD this past December in support of keeping the dams.

More importantly, his letter, which may seem like a well-reasoned analysis of the facts, is full of misinformation.

First of all, there may be new technology that could be used to increase the power output of the dams’ turbines, but nothing has been put forward to suggest how it could be doubled. If there’s a valid proposal to double the output and that details the investment that would be required, please make it available. But even if it could somehow be doubled, that would just increase it from 1.5 percent of Kennebunk’s power to 3 percent, still a tiny fraction of our total.

There is no reason to think that any replacement power KLPD will need to purchase would be more expensive that the power produced by the dams. Additionally, there is no reason any of that power has to come from coal and oil. Energy efficiency and energy conservation are the cheapest and easiest options for offsetting this small amount of lost power, and significant new generation could come locally from solar. Or we could just replace that small amount of power by purchasing it on the market from sustainable sources with the other 98.5 percent of our electricity.

Wayne mentions the “latest figures, confirmed by at least five different sources with expertise in the field,” that show that the removal of the dams would be much more expensive than retaining them. We would very much like to know who these sources are, and what they base their conclusions on. They were not put forward in the discussion he facilitated, the second follow-up meeting, or the KLPD public hearings.

If the dams are removed, it is true that the river would become unswimmable in places where new rapids would appear and access for canoeists would be more limited. On the other hand, there would be new pools for swimming in water where you could actually see the bottom. Also, it’s hard to understand how a sand bank could be more dangerous to a young child than a lake. Swimming pools have fences for this reason.

As far as fire protection is concerned, our understanding from speaking to some staff at KFD is that the river has not been used in this manner in many years and it was not a significant concern.

Also raised is the issue of possible sediment contamination as some potentially significant liability. The studies commissioned so far by KLPD have found the river sediments behind Kesslen to be free of high levels of pollutants, and very unlikely to require costly removal operations. The two upriver dams were not tested since they have been breached more recently and thus were expected to have even less sedimentation. It was also noted that following the floods associated with the Mother’s Day and Patriot’s Day storms, a large volume of sediment was washed down the river, and there is little likelihood that any significant contamination remains anywhere above the dams. Nevertheless, further testing would be done if KLPD does not pursue relicensing.

Wayne also mentions the concern that other property owners in town could see their taxes materially increase if the assessed value of the abutters’ properties was reduced. There are approximately 200 residential properties along the three impoundments. Even if all 200 of these properties lost 25 percent of their value as some have suggested – something we don’t see as remotely likely – it would still only require an increase from $15 to $15.08 in the tax rate to maintain the town’s total tax revenue. He notes that the talk of dam removal has impacted resale values along the river, but it is quite possible that negative commentary and stoking people’s fears have been the biggest drivers of any resale issues that may have occurred.

In our facilitated discussion both sides did not agree that fish ladders at the dams would be an “ideal” solution. We simply agreed that, at a minimum, if the dams were to remain, fish ladders were necessary. MKRA strongly recommends dam removal as the easiest, cheapest and most efficient way to restore native fish to 9 miles of upstream habitat, and significantly improve this environment for myriad species of birds and wildlife. Fish are in the river right now in large numbers unable to pass the dam. Large schools of American shad. Thousands of river herring. Lots of striped bass feeding on the river herring. Rainbow smelt have even been documented in the Mousam this spring for the first time in modern history. The Mousam is the only major river in Maine with no fish passage, and federal laws and regulations will require that passage be provided, which is a major part of why it is much more cost-effective to remove the dams.

His letter also suggests that if Kesslen dam were removed, the flow above Main Street would somehow be greatly different from the flow below it, even though KLPD has repeatedly made clear that the volume of water passing through would remain unchanged.

What is difficult to understand is how the same arguments can be presented again and again as fact, when they have been refuted in public meetings many times. KLPD is a responsible public utility that has been willing to listen to and answer questions like these, and spend substantial ratepayer money in the process. But it appears that if you don’t like the answers, you just say it again, hoping it will stick. Those who want to keep the dams must base their arguments on fact, not just keep tossing out random claims. And a truly neutral facilitator should not report back his biased opinion of the issues.

Bruce Read, Kevin Flynn,
Monica and Bill Grabin
Kennebunk

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