Restoring Historic Fisheries
After a series of successes both at the federal level and in the State of Maine, the Friends of the Presumpscot is focused on monitoring the implementation of new fish passage on a series of dams beginning with Cumberland Mills Dam and moving upriver to Saccarappa Dam.
Approximately every 30 years 8 of the 10 dams on the Presumpscot become available to be re-licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As stewards of the river, the Friends of the Presumpscot (FOPR) filed in 1999 for "intervenor status" with FERC to be a community voice for the river. Of the 5 dams up for re-licensing, FOPR opposed 3 (Little Falls, Mallison Falls, Saccarappa), and supported the re-licensing of 2 (Dundee, Gambo) provided certain conditions of fish passage were met.
In the end, no dams were ordered to be removed - but for the first time in Maine's history since the construction of dams began in the 1700s, we now have legally ordered, enforceable, and unchallenged fish passage required for all native species up river to the Dundee impoundment.
This has been a very long time coming. From the foundations laid by Native Americans first seeking fish passage to protect their culture and lives in the 1700s, to settlers petitioning Massachusetts for fish passage pre-Maine statehood, to Commissioner Atkins in 1869 radically rethinking our responsibility to native species, to Senators Muskie and Mitchell and the Clean Water Act, to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cleaning up the mills, to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR)and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) pushing for passage at Smelt Hill in 1985. New links in a long chain, all trying to do the right thing.
To achieve these final enforceable orders from FERC, it took 12 years and the following legal actions at the federal level:
- Bold and decisive action by DMR and the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) to purchase and remove Smelt Hill Dam (the first dam at the mouth of the river), with the support of the Attorney General's office, all at some risk of significant liability if efforts failed and money did not fall in place;
- Aggressive and determined advocacy by an astonishingly close association of American Rivers/Friends of the Presumpscot River, state agencies and USFWS at FERC, including withstanding SAPPI's challenge to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals;
- A precedent setting 401 water quality certification issued and defended completely by Maine DEP, that was then defended completely by the Attorney General's office and American Rivers/Friends of the Presumpscot River through the Maine courts and the US Supreme Court; and
- The first-ever use of Maine's fishway law in a contested proceeding, conceived and pursued by this same close team.
At the same the Friends and our partners were working at FERC, we were also pursuing fish passage on the one dam not under FERC jurisdiction: Cumberland Mills Dam.
After a series of hearings, in June 2009, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Roland Martin passed down his decision to require SAPPI to install fish passage at its Cumberland Mill Dam. This was a great success for the Presumpscot River. This ruling was necessary because the FERC licenses now requiring passage on the upstream dams was contingent on fish passage at Cumberland Mills.
Passage at Cumberland Mills, which was completed in 2013, will allow for sea run fish such as shad, alewives and river herring to move upstream. While there is still much work to be done, this is a huge and crucial step toward the revival of a magnificent river.
Throughout this decade-plus process to achieve the fish passage on the Presumpscot River, unrelentingly and with continued optimism the Friends did not give up. And monitoring the completion of this process will continue to be a priority for us.