2016-08-19 / Front Page

Public vote set on Mousam dams

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Although it’s only a nonbinding straw vote, the public will get its first chance Nov. 8 to weigh in on the fate of three hydroelectric dams on the Mousam River, owned by the Kennebunk Light and Power District (KLP).

At the Aug. 9 selectmen’s meeting, petitions for three separate questions were submitted for voter consideration on the general election ballot.

According to Town Clerk Merton Brown, the Kennebunk Town Charter requires that a citizens’ petition have names equal to at least 7 percent of the number of votes cast in town during the most recent gubernatorial election.

In this case, he said, that meant a requirement of 422 signatures. Because each of the three petitions contained between 800 and 953 names, Brown said his office stopped counting after validating 450 signatures on each.

Per the charter, selectmen are bound to approve the validated questions to voters. Only Selectman Deborah Beal voted against doing so, “Just to be different,” she said.

However, some, like Selectman Ed Karytko, seemed almost deadly serious about following through on the requirement to place the question on the town meeting warrant.

“I’m very much attached to this because this happened a number of years ago and the board said, ‘No, we will not allow that to go forward,’ and I will never allow that to happen again,” Karytko said. “They brought the petitions forward, they have a right to have this go to the ballot.”

According to Bob Georgitis, a member of the grass-roots group, Save the Mousam, which arose during the past year out of concern for the fate of the dams, the petitions are a result of KLP’s most recent action.

On June 15, the KLP board of directors voted 4-0 to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that KLP will not seek to renew its current license to generate power with the dams past 2022. Because of the time and cost involved in the relicensing process, KLP has until March of next year to send its formal notice to FERC.

However, although they also voted 4-0 at that same meeting to immediately suspend power generation at the Kesslen Dam next to Route 1, out of concern for the age and condition of the turbines, trustees have not yet announced whether they will keep or tear down the dams.

KLP Trustee David Cluff abstained from both June 15 votes because he owns Duffy’s Tavern, which is located in the Lafyette Center — the same building that contains the Kesslen Dam power generators.

The votes came just one day after Save the Mousam candidate Daniel Bartilucci unseated Mike Jordan for a spot on the KLP Board of Trustees. Because Bartilucci was not yet sworn into office, Jordan cast one of the four yes votes for ending power generation at the Kesslen now, and at the Dane Perkins and Twine Mill dams by 2022.

“We’ve been waiting [years] for the KLP directors to act, and the finally did immediately after Dan Bartilucci got elected, but before he was [sworn in] and able to sit. So, they’ve started us down this path,” Georgitis said of the petition effort. “We think they are excluding the voters. So this is an opportunity for the voters to have their say, in three different ways.

“Time is short, but we collected 2,600 signatures in two weeks, and that was town-wide, from all parts of the community,” Georgitis said. “I think that’s an amazing feat.”

“We saw a lot of frustration. People said, ‘We like it the way it is, why is this happening?’” said Save the Mousam member Tom Murphy.

Selectman Shiloh Schulte said the board tried to set up a joint meeting with KLP trustees in March, but were rebuffed.

Ultimately, he said, the dams belong to KLP and selectmen have no say on their fate, unless, as some, including former selectboard chairman Kevin Donovan have suggested might happen, KLP abandons them. Still, Murphy said selectmen have a fiduciary responsibility to get involved.

“If those dams come down, what will be the impact of property values along a nine-mile stretch [of the Mousam] and what will that do to the town [budget]?” he asked, rhetorically.

The three questions about for the ballot are:

“Do you favor the Kennebunk Light and Power District continuing to invest in hydropower generation facilities along the Mousam River?

“Do you want the opportunity to vote on any, and/or all of the following questions before the Trustees of the Kennebunk Light and Power District make a final decision on them: Whether the Dane Perkins Dam, Twine Mill Dam, and/or Kesslen Dam should continue to generate hydropower, remain in place, and/or be removed?

And, “Do you favor the Town of Kennebunk maintaining and improving the existing conditions along the Mousam River, in particular, mill pond areas and water levels sufficient to allow the continuation of existing recreational activities, by keeping the Dane Perkins, Twin Mill, and Kesslen Dams in place, whether or not said dams continue to generate hydropower?”

Selectmen were not exactly in love with the wording of the questions.

“For myself, I would have rather attached a price tag to each of them,” Beal said.

“I don’t know that these [questions] have a whole lot of meaning without a price tag,” Schulte agreed, “but as a town we are not in a position to actually be acting on this, or attaching price tags to anything.”

Selectmen are not allowed to add recommendations or explanatory notes to articles added to the town meeting warrant by citizens’ petition.

Selectmen Christopher Cluff noted financial numbers could be written into any competing measure selectmen might care to add to the warrant. However, the board expressed zero interest in soliciting public feedback on a dam question of their own.

Also, with absentee ballots due to be ready Sept. 13, Selectman Ed Karytko said it would be “nearly impossible” for the town to calculate costs of the varying options for keeping and removing one or more of the dams, even if it wanted to.

Still, Beal cautioned her peers from taking the outcome of any vote on Nov. 8 as an excuse to lock in voters once the costs of dealing with the dams becomes know.

That outlay could include a federal mandate to add fish ladders to the dams if they are retained, even if used only to maintain current river levels and not to generate electricity.

However, Murphy took that as an apparent excuse to work in a dig on selectmen. After all, there was “overwhelming support” several years ago on rebuilding the town skateboard park, he said, “And I haven’t seen any movement on that.”

Meanwhile, another Save the Mousam member, Donna Teague, pleaded selectmen to send a request to KPD, asking that it hold off on sending its Notice of Intent to FERC until after the November vote.

The board made no promises, nor did they set a public hearing date on the three dam questions.

According to the town charter, a public hearing must be held on any citizens’ petition question at least 10 days before the vote.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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