Gov. Janet Mills’ administration is dropping a controversial proposal for restoring endangered Atlantic salmon to the Kennebec River.
The plan called for the removal of two hydroelectric dams and consideration of removing two more. And it received significant pushback from multiple stakeholders, including a lawsuit from the dams’ owners, Brookfield Renewable Partners.
“We received more comments,” said Patrick Keliher, commissioner of marine resources, “than in any other rulemaking ever done by the department.”
Keliher says the department made a procedural error in the way it proposed the rule, as Brookfield had argued in court, and the agency will now draw up a new plan under a different statute.
Keliher says this time there will be a more robust stakeholder process up front. He says that should include Brookfield, waterfront municipalities and employers dependent on the dams for water flow management.
That includes the Sappi paper company. Officials there told federal energy regulators this month that if the Shawmut dam in Fairfield were to be decommissioned, it would have to close its mill just upstream. Keliher says his agency is paying attention to economic concerns.
“The issue with Sappi is a real one. I look forward to talking with them as to how we might resolve what that challenge would be so it’s not a hindrance. We don’t want the efforts around fisheries and ecosystem restoration and habitat connectivity to be stopped by something that could be solved,” he says.
Keliher adds, though, that the agency still will argue for the highest possible standards for restoring the endangered salmon in comments on a pending federal relicensing of the Shawmut dam. He would not say whether that would include calling for its removal or decommissioning.
Brookfield and conservation groups that backed the agency’s proposed plan withheld comment until more details of the agency’s new plan are available.