AUGUSTA, MAINE – Citizens, sports people and conservationists from all parts of Maine are pleased that today the state has reaffirmed its responsibility to manage the Allagash as a “wild” river area and has committed to revise its management plan to “incorporate the intent of the federal “wild’s river designation.”
The Memorandum of Agreement was signed today by the Maine Department of Conservation and the National Park Service. 90% of the 1,400 public comments submitted advocated that the Allagash be managed as a ‘wild’ river.
The document mitigates the state’s illegal construction of a modern concrete and steel dam and logging bridge across the nation’s first state-administered river in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
“While we still have a lot of work ahead to fulfill the 30-year-old promise that the Allagash be managed to ‘develop its maximum wilderness character,’ this Agreement is a starting point,” said Cathy Johnson, North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The State has let management of the Allagash stray from its original “wilderness” mission. In addition to the dam, the State has authorized a number of illegal motor vehicle access points and parking lots that harm the wild character of the Allagash. Moving two of those motor vehicle access points back from the water’s edge is a step in the right direction towards restoring the Allagash’s wilderness character.”
The Allagash was first protected in 1966 when Maine citizens voted by an overwhelming margin to establish the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. In 1970, federal protection was added when, through the efforts of U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie, the Allagash was designated the first state administered Wild and Scenic River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Since that time, 17 other rivers across the nation have been designated state administered Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Under federal law, the Allagash was to be managed as a “wild” river, the most protective of the three classifications (scenic and recreational are the other two classifications.) “Wild” rivers are intended to be “generally inaccessible except by trail.” “Wild” rivers are also supposed to be free of impoundments, except, in the case of the Allagash, for three small timber crib dams of historic significance that were grandfathered by the original legislation. New, non-conforming dams were prohibited by law and by agreement.
In 1997, the State of Maine constructed a modern steel and concrete dam on the Allagash at Churchill Lake. The reconstruction of Churchill dam was carried out without obtaining the required permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and required legal approval from the National Park Service. Last July, in response to an after-the-fact permit application, the National Park Service determined that the dam constituted “a direct and adverse impact to the values for which the Allagash was designated a “wild” component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.” However, the National Park Service agreed that the dam could remain if a mitigation agreement was put in place. The Memorandum of Agreement signed today by the state and federal agencies details the mitigation measures that will be undertaken.
“This a limited agreement, but it is a first step toward restoring the Allagash to its legally wild condition,” said Dean Bennett, professor emeritus at the University of Maine at Farmington and author of the books:
“Maintaining the wilderness character of the Allagash is critical for businesses such as ours,” said Warren Cochrane, a professional guide who began guiding with his father in the early 1950’s and whose son is carrying on the business today. “We hope that this agreement will help the tradition of extended wilderness canoe trips survive, a tradition that the Allagash Wilderness Waterway was established to preserve.”
“In the Agreement, the State has committed to revise its 1999 management plan,” said Dick Walthers, president of the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited. “This is very important because that plan authorized motor vehicle access points which are not consistent with the original law and which may threaten the health of the cold water fisheries in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.”
“Our recent poll found that 79% of Maine residents believe that the State should do a better job of managing the Allagash,” said Karen Woodsum of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are hopeful that this Agreement is a step in that direction.”
“While the Agreement does not solve all the issues of concern regarding the Allagash, it sets up a process where those concerns can be addressed,” said Jenn Burns, attorney for Maine Audubon.
“The MOA represents a major setback for a few special interests, which have spread false rumors that the Agreement is a federal takeover,” said Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director for RESTORE: The North Woods. “Conservationists will continue to advocate for protecting the river from new bridges, for establishing an Allagash stewardship fund, and for expanding public ownership in the Waterway.”