Good news for Penobscot river in Maine.
A Damned Dam On The Penobscot River
by Susan Sharon
June 9, 2012
Like most members of the Penobscot Nation, Scott Phillips grew up near
the Penobscot River and learned to paddle and fish as a young boy. He
took to it like a duck to water. He became a competitive racer and
eventually opened his own business selling canoes, kayaks and other
Next week, the first of two dams on the river will be removed,
altering the way it's used recreationally. The change could also be a
boon to Phillip's business.
"There's going be more people that are going to want to get into
canoeing or kayaking or even rafting," Phillips says. "Because once we
take those dams out, you're going from basically two small, lake-type
features to a free-flowing river again and it's going to be nice."
Paddling a stretch of calm water, Phillips says members of his tribe
have long opposed the labyrinth of dams that block Atlantic salmon
from their native spawning grounds. By the end of next year, a 35-mile
section of river is expected to be clear.
"It's the traveling route my Penobscot ancestors used to get to the
ocean for centuries, and so I'm very excited to retrace those steps,"
Long Time Coming
Conservation groups are also cheering the move. For centuries,
industry relied on the Penobscot River. Former Inland Fisheries and
Wildlife Commissioner Bucky Owen is a fly fisherman who's hopeful
nearly a dozen fish species will be restored along with the river's
"I've been involved with conservation for over 40 years here in Maine
and this is the No. 1 project I think that I will have been or will be
involved in ï¿½ the most significant," Owen says.
A coalition of conservation groups collaborated with industry, the
Penobscot Nation and government officials to make the project happen.
Before they came to an agreement, the three parties fought protracted
court battles over hydro development and fish passage. Black Bear
Hydro spokesman Scott Hall was one of the first people to agree to
"The benefit to us relatively early on was very clear," Hall says.
"And that was that there was a better way to do business."
Fewer Dams, More Energy
In exchange for removal of two out-dated, inefficient dams and
installing better fish passage at a third, Hall's company is allowed
to boost energy production at other facilities along the river. The
complicated process to get to the agreement has taken 13 years.
"We had a number of occasions where the emotions were very high," Hall
says. "But to everybody's credit, I think somebody was able to step in
each time and say okay, wait a minute, we're making progress here.
There's a bigger end to this."
Despite the three sides finally agreeing to remove the dams, there are
still some critics of the historic project, including Maine's Gov.
It's irresponsible for our state or our country to be taking out hydro
dams at this time," LePage says.
LePage says more dams should be built as a way to lower energy costs.
In protest, he is skipping Monday's planned celebration to mark the
Penobscot's rebirth with the demolition of the Great Works Dam.
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