Augusta, ME – Two law firms, Verrill Dana in Portland, Maine, and Wiley Rein in Washington, D.C., have been awarded a 2008 Natural Resources Council of Maine Environmental Award for their tireless efforts to free the Sebasticook River by removing the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow.
For about 100 years, the Fort Halifax Dam at the mouth of the Sebasticook River in Winslow blocked passage of salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, shad, alewives and other sea-run fish. The dam generated very little power and did not earn enough money to justify the construction of an adequate fish lift. So, in 2002, Florida Power and Light, which owned the dam, applied to remove it and in 2004, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved removal of the dam, which should have marked the beginning of the rebirth of the native sea run fishery in the Sebasticook River.
But a small group of landowners, who preferred an impounded pond to a free-flowing river, appealed the government’s decision to the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Fortunately, attorney Chuck Verrill and his team from Wiley Rein—Evan Cochran, Paul Dame and William Grimaldi—took the lead on that case for NRCM and the other organizations that make up the Kennebec Coalition (American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter). The efforts of these attorneys helped ensure that the court eventually reached a decision to uphold the removal order.
This same handful of landowners also sued the Governor and numerous state agencies for entering into the groundbreaking agreement that required fish passage at Fort Halifax. The same agreement resulted in the successful restoration of 17 miles of the Kennebec River through the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in1998, and the installation of fish lifts at three other dams in the Kennebec watershed.
The lawsuit against the Governor went all the way to Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, where William Harwood and Nora Healy from Verrill Dana intervened successfully on behalf of NRCM and our coalition partners. Mr. Harwood and Ms. Healy worked tirelessly through this process once again when the same group of landowners appealed the State of Maine’s dam removal permit, and again this case went all the way through Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court. Again, it was the hard work and dedication of these dedicated attorneys that helped ensure a positive outcome in the case.
Yet another battle appeared in the removal of the dam came when an out-of-state hydropower firm got involved. And, here again, as before, all of these attorneys worked together seamlessly in their efforts. Thanks to their dedication, on July 17, 2008, the Fort Halifax Dam came down.
“We have seen how quickly and dramatically rivers can recover when a dam is removed,” says NRCM Executive Director Brownie Carson. “In the Kennebec, once choked by the Edwards Dam, we see not only our native-sea-run fish returning to spawn, but also thriving populations of eagles and Osprey, mammals, and other wildlife that rely upon healthy rivers. We look forward to seeing this same great change in the Sebasticook, thanks to these attorneys at Verrill Dana and Wiley Rein. NRCM is honored to give them a 2008 Natural Resources Council of Maine Environmental Award.”