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April 9, 2021

State regulators withdraw Kennebec dams removal amendment

a river with rocky falls and a railroad bridge going over it Photo / Maureen Milliken Brookfield Renewables' Lockwood Dam, at Ticonic Falls on the Kennebec River between Waterville and Winslow, foreground, and the Hydro Kennebec Dam, in back, beyond the bridge, are two of four that the state Department of Marine Resources had proposed be removed to allow fish passage.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources will withdraw an amendment to its Kennebec River Management Plan that suggests removing four dams from the Kennebec River between Waterville and Skowhegan.

"We are suspending the current proposed rule making," DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols said Friday. "We’re doing this after reviewing comments on the proposed rule and conducting a review of DMR’s authority to undertake fisheries management plans."

The department will "take the time necessary to determine the best path forward for the adoption of a new management plan that establishes an appropriate long-term vision for this river’s fishery resources," Nichols told Mainebiz.

The move comes a week after global renewable energy company Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE: BEP) filed an injunction and complaint against the Maine Department of Marine Resources to stop the potential removal of the dams. The filings claimed the amendment to the 1993 river management is illegal and bypassed the process that is supposed to involve the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which has authority over the dams. 

The amendment process completed the public hearing phase late last month, with more than 1,000 public comments.

The entities that oversee the four dams — Brookfield Renewable’s Merimil LP, Hydro Kennebec LLC and Brookfield White Pine Hydro LLC — jointly filed the suit against the department and Commissioner Patrick Keliher to halt finalization of the amendment. State officials last week declined to comment on the suit. 

The four dams are in Waterville-Winslow, Fairfield and Skowhegan and are among 38 that Brookfield Renewable Partners owns in Maine. They provide 250 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, about 6% of the state's electricity use.

The amendment to the 1993 Kennebec River Management Plan suggested removing the dams as a way to restore Atlantic salmon, American shad, blueback herring, alewife and sea lamprey to that area of the river, which has lagged "primarily because of the lack of upstream fish passage." Restoration of the variety of fish species leads to other restoration, as well as recreation and economic development opportunities, the state said in its proposal.

The state proposal said the energy the dams produce is "relatively small," but the impact on state resources by removing them would be large. "The state believes the best approach to meet our management goals for the Kennebec River is to decommission and remove some or all of the dams in the lower Kennebec," the Department of Marine Resources proposal said.

Brookfield had proposed a fish passage plan that would keep the dams intact, but it was rejected by the federal government in July.

Brookfield said the department and state officials demonstrated "a lack of understanding of how detrimental dam removal would be to the lower Kennebec communities, businesses and stakeholders and how the 2020 amendment conflicts with Maine’s climate and renewable energy policies."

The dams removal is supported by environmental groups, many of which cite the 1999 removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta. Proponents say removal of that dam helped renew river habitat in the area and it has been cited as a force behind downtown Augusta's revival. Proponents say that the energy produced, 6% of what's used in the state, is being replaced by solar and wind power.

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