I have worked at NRCM for more than 16 years. During that time I have seen a lot of amazing progress made by NRCM and others to protect Maine’s air, land, water, and wildlife. I have attended press conferences, legislative bill signings, member events, public hearings, annual meetings, and many other activities related to our work.
But one event that sticks out in my mind happened on July 1, 1999. I had been here for just over three years, and it was on that day, after a late night at a Bonnie Raitt concert in Portland (she donated part of her concert proceeds for our work), that I sat on the bank of the Kennebec River eagerly anticipating the moment when the Edwards Dam would be breached, letting water flow freely through this location for the first time in more than 162 years.
I was in charge of keeping an eye on the camera equipment of our photographer, Bill Silliker, so I got a prime spot on the riverbank where I could see the bulldozer get into position and, after speeches heralding this moment, the celebratory ringing of the bell, and the congratulatory conversations among my friends, family, and colleagues, we sat almost silently waiting for that bulldozer to dig out the dirt. And then, cheers erupted as the water, brown and muddy at first, but then clear and strong, begin to flow freely. I am tearing up as I write this, still remembering the excitement of the day.
The Edwards Dam removal came a decade after work by NRCM and our partners in the Kennebec Coalition began. It was the first time that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had decided that the environmental benefits of removing the dam outweighed the benefits of the small amount of power the dam produced.
And now here we are, 13 years later, more than a decade after NRCM and our partners in the Penobscot River Restoration Trust began our work to open up 1,000 miles of sea-run fish habitat on the Penobscot River. This will help bring salmon back to this part of the river for the first time in 200 years. On June 11th, the Great Works dam will be removed. This is the first of two dams on the river that will be taken out, and there will be a state-of-the-art fish bypass built at a third dam. Along with restoration of habitat, this project will result in no net loss of hydropower created by dams on the river. Other dams will have energy production increased to make up for (and possibly even surpass) the amount of power lost by the removal of the Great Works and Veazie dams. That sounds like a win-win to me!
I sent an email out to NRCM members and friends today from Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann inviting them to the celebration of the first dam’s removal on Monday, June 11th. And now, I am inviting you. Join NRCM and our partners and the whole community on Indian Island in Old Town on the 11th for a full day of events to commemorate this historic event. There will be activities for kids, remarks by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and others, and there will be chances for river tours, museum visits, and more. Events start at 9:30 a.m. and include a free lunch generously hosted by the Penobscot Indian Nation.
Be a part of history and join us to celebrate the removal of the Great Works Dam. I hope to see you there!