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The Atlantic Salmon Federation has joined the Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine in submitting a Notice of Intent to sue Toronto-based Brookfield Renewable Partners L.P. (Brookfield) under the United States’ Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Brookfield owns four dams on the middle stretch of the Kennebec River in Maine (Lockwood, Hydro-Kennebec, Shawmut, and Weston) that block passage to critical habitat for native sea-run fish, including endangered wild Atlantic salmon. Since January 1, 2020, Brookfield has operated these dams without the “incidental take permit” required by the ESA. Following substantial criticism from ASF, other conservation groups, NOAA Fisheries, as well as the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the company’s Species Protection Plan was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on July 13, 2020. In the intervening time, Brookfield has taken no action to come into compliance with the ESA.
Portions of the Kennebec River watershed have recovered remarkably after the removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax dams in 1999 and 2008, respectively. The watershed now supports the largest restored run of alewives (gaspereau) on the eastern seaboard, along with vibrant recreational fisheries for American shad and striped bass. But the recovery and long-term persistence of Atlantic salmon in Maine—and thus the United States—hinges on access to the diverse spawning and rearing habitats in high-elevation forested areas, which exhibit significant climate resilience. Access to this habitat in the Sandy River and other Kennebec tributaries remains blocked. The removal of Brookfield’s Kennebec dams is therefore vital to the survival of wild Atlantic salmon in the United States.
The dams also block access to historic habitat for American shad, American eel, alewives, blueback herring, and sea lamprey. Hydroelectric dams are unnatural barriers that disrupt the hydrology of the entire river system, resulting in a cascade of negative ecological effects. These include degraded water quality, loss of habitat, elevated water temperature, and increased predation. Dam removal would result in a re-naturalized temperature and flow regime, a healthier ecosystem, and the return of many native, wild species.
Brookfield’s corporate sustainability and social responsibility policies stress their commitment to protecting biological diversity and aquatic ecosystems, public resources that they use for private gain. Yet the company has shown a longstanding disregard for both the ESA and the ecological integrity of the Kennebec River. It has consistently endeavored to delay the regulatory process. Consequently, years of multi-stakeholder meetings and numerous attempts at collaborative engagement have failed to produce results.
By delivering a Notice of Intent to litigate, ASF and its partners are sending a clear message to Brookfield: the Kennebec River needs immediate and meaningful action. Brookfield can and must look at what is at stake on the Kennebec River and take seriously their commitments to environmental and social responsibility.
For further comment, please contact:
John Burrows, Executive Director of U.S. Programs, Atlantic Salmon Federation.