Standish wades into Presumpscot dam dispute

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STANDISH — The town thinks there’s something fishy about an agreement that would remove or modify dams along the Presumpscot River.

At a June 7 special meeting, Standish town councilors voted 5-0 to authorize Town Manager Kris Tucker to file a motion to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s review of the Saccarappa Agreement.

That deal was reached in 2016 after several years of negotiations between multiple parties, including Friends of the Presumpscot River, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sappi paper company, the city of Westbrook, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

The agreement would remove the Saccarappa dams in Westbrook and create fish passages with an aim of restoring anadromous fish populations such as river herring, shad and salmon that spawn in fresh water but spend most of their time in the ocean.

Standish joins two other conservation groups, the Friends of Sebago Lake and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, in objecting to the agreement based on concerns that it doesn’t go far enough or act soon enough in requiring fish passages at two of the dams further up the Presumpscot.

The agreement involves five dam sites along the river, all owned by Sappi through its subsidiary S.D. Warren:  the Saccarappa dams in Westbrook along with the Mallison Falls, Little Falls, Gambo and Dundee dams in Gorham and Windham.

Tucker’s appeal to FERC includes the text of a May 7 letter he sent to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“Removing fish passage requirements for Gambo and Dundee dams would be a taking from Standish citizens of the great economic and ecosystem value that will be derived from restoring anadromous fish to the entire Presumpscot watershed region,” Tucker wrote. “Not only are we a community that relies heavily on tourism, which would be bolstered by increased fish stock diversity, but Standish also appreciates the intrinsic and extrinsic value derived by maintaining an ecosystem as close to original, natural conditions as is feasible.”

Friends of Sebago Lake President Roger Wheeler, a Standish resident, has gone before several local government boards in the region and expressed frustration with how the agreement deals with the Gambo and Dundee dams. Wheeler argues that delaying fish passage requirements at those two sites for decades would prevent fish from traveling all the way to Sebago Lake.  

Standish Town Councilor Greg Sirpis, who sponsored the motion to intervene, said Wheeler was able to convince the council that action was necessary.

“For me, especially being an outdoor guy, we want world-class fishing in Sebago Lake,” said Sirpis, who is the former President of the Standish Fish and Game Club.

Sirpis said he hopes other neighboring towns including Windham and Gorham consider joining Standish as intervenors.

Council Chairwoman Kimberly Pomerleau and Councilor Michael Delcourt were absent for the vote last week, according to Town Clerk Mary Chapman.

The debate involving fish passage on the Presumpscot dates back years, including a stop at the Supreme Court in 2006, when the justices unanimously sided with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in its argument that the state could require fish passages as part of the dam licensing process.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The Town of Standish has filed a motion to intervene in the Sacarappa Agreement, citing concerns about delays in fish passages added to dams on the Presumpscot River including the Dundee dam.

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