By Doug Harlow, Staff Writer
Passage for sea-run species of fish, including alewives, shad, blueback herring and Atlantic salmon up the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers is required by a 1998 agreement with the state of Maine, federal energy regulators, members of the Kennebec Coalition and hydroelectric dam owners.
The Kennebec Coalition, which advocates a return to the traditional free flow of waters for fish habitat, is made up of American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The immediate effect of the 1998 agreement was to remove the 160-year-old Edwards Dam, north of Augusta, giving fish 17 more miles of the river. The removal of the Edwards Dam marked the first time the federal government ruled that the environmental benefits of dam removal were of more value than the economic benefits of keeping the dam in operation.
The next fish passage using fish lifts or fish elevators are the Lockwood Dam on the Kennebec River in Waterville, the Benton Falls Dam and the Burnham Dam, both on the Sebasticook River. There are several more dams still in place farther upriver on both bodies of water.
The same 1998 agreement gave FPL Energy, which owns the Fort Halifax dam in Winslow, the option of building a fish lift. The power company determined that cost — estimated between $3 million and $4 million — was economically unfeasible. The matter of possibly breaching the Winslow dam for upstream fish passage remains in court.