On Monday morning, wrecking crews began demolishing the 1,000-foot-long Great Works Dam in Bradley, Me., the first step in a multiyear effort to restore ancient fish runs on the Penobscot River. This is a very welcome development for the environment and a tribute to the willing collaboration of many players, public and private.
One more big hydroelectric dam on the Penobscot will come down, and two more will be retrofitted and upgraded to provide fish passage and more electricity.
The project will open up 1,000 miles of habitat, providing spawning grounds for 11 species of migratory fish — including wild Atlantic salmon and Atlantic sturgeon — numbers have been decimated over the years. The cost of the project is estimated at $62 million, with government agencies and private groups each providing half.
The removal in 1999 of the 917-foot Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River has led to a remarkable comeback by shad, shortnose sturgeon and alewives, an important source of food for larger fish in the ocean. The same players who put together the latest demolition project were also responsible for the earlier one — the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, private groups like American Rivers, state agencies and the utilities.
These and other dams that have come down in recent years have generally outlived their usefulness as power generators, in part because of increased energy efficiency among consumers. Regulators should search for other opportunities to get rid of unnecessary dams, and Congress — which has underwritten past demolitions — should keep doing so.