The Penobscot project will restore self-sustaining runs of 11 native, diadromous fish to the river. This is the United States’ best chance to recover Atlantic salmon, as well as provide key benefits to endangered shortnose sturgeon and the severely diminished American eel.
In June, 2004, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust (Trust) signed an agreement that involves the purchase of three dams, removal of the two closest to the ocean and bypass of a third, improved fish passage at four other dams and the option for PPL Corporation to increase generation at six other dams thereby maintaining 95% of their generating capacity. In June, 2016, the Penobscot project was completed.
This project poses a unique and comprehensive opportunity to address the needs of the full native assemblage of diadromous fish in a river and is one of the first to meaningfully address the cumulative impacts of dams on species such as shad and salmon.
The project will achieve broad benefits for the natural and human communities living along the river. These include:
- Restored, self-sustaining runs of 11 species of sea-run fish including 12,000 adult Atlantic salmon, 1.5 million American shad, 10 million alewives and blueback herring; increases in severely depleted American eel populations and the re-establishment of both species of sturgeon to their historical habitat;
- Significantly improved access for fish to 500 miles of river;
- Improved water quality;
- Assist struggling groundfish populations by restoring the herring forage base in the Gulf of Maine;
- Increased populations of bald eagles, ospreys and neo-tropical birds along the river;
- Diversified and increased recreational, economic, cultural and traditional use of the river by local communities and the Penobscot Indian Nation.
Under this unprecedented and innovative agreement:
- The Penobscot River Restoration Trust (PRRT) had the option to purchase three dams from PPL Corporation, and subsequently removed the two lowermost dams on the river: Veazie and Great Works and built a state-of-the-art fish bypass around the third dam;
- PPL Corporation had the opportunity to increase generation at six existing dams, which would result in 95% of the current energy generation being maintained;
- PPL Corporation will improve fish passage at four additional dams.
- The final agreement called for extensive community input and outreach in addressing community concerns before finalizing the agreement.
A National Academy of Sciences report on Atlantic salmon in Maine (January 2004) emphasizes the urgent need for a “… program of dam removal, with priority on those dams whose removal would make the greatest amount of spawning and rearing habitat available. The report stated that the Penobscot should be a “primary focus” for Atlantic salmon restoration and it favorably cited the Penobscot Agreement.
The Gulf of Maine Council on the Maine Environment’s Gulf of Maine Habitat Restoration Strategy (October 2004) identifies the Penobscot Agreement as “…a potential restoration project … having large-scale environmental benefits for the Gulf of Maine.”