Great Works Dam falls

Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2012 in News

Great Works Dam falls

OLD TOWN — On Monday, June 11, demolition of the Penobscot River’s Great Works Dam began. The initial demolition was attended by the state's delegation as well as many representatives of the Obama administration. Soon, the river will run free from Old Town to the Gulf of Maine.

The dam is a thousand feet long, and had no access for fish passage. After the dam is removed, the hydropower the dam provided will be restored as a "run of the river" hydroelectric plant.

“Today is an important milestone for river conservation in America,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who attended the press conference, said. “Through a historic partnership that exemplifies President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, we are reconnecting 1,000 miles of river, restoring vital habitat for fish and wildlife, expanding opportunities for outdoor recreation, and supporting energy production, jobs and economic growth in communities throughout Maine.”

The decommissioning and removal of the Great Works Dam, located north of Bangor, is part of a broad collaborative effort that will eventually include removal of the Veazie Dam and creation of new, upstream fish passage at Milford and Howland dams. Once completed, the project will vastly improve access to nearly 1,000 miles of historic fish habitat, benefiting 11 species of native sea-run fish including endangered Atlantic salmon. The entire project will be phased over several years and will create hundreds of jobs.

The Penobscot River Restoration Project will also enable the Penobscot Indian Nation to obtain sustenance and more fully realize cultural practices from the river that bears their name. “Today is a day that will be remembered as a most significant event in reuniting our long-lost fisheries resources with their historic homeland. Bringing back these lost relatives continues the restoration of ancient natural cycles of creation in a river we have been connected to for thousands of years, and makes us who we are as a people,"  said Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Indian Nation.

The remarkable private-public collaboration includes hydropower companies Black Bear Hydro and PPL Corp.; the Penobscot Indian Nation; NOAA; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; American Rivers; the Atlantic Salmon Federation; Maine Audubon; Natural Resources Council of Maine; the Penobscot River Restoration Trust; The Nature Conservancy; and Trout Unlimited.

Scott Hall, vice president of environmental and business services at Black Bear Hydro Partners, said, “Black Bear looks forward to developing new (run of the river) hydropower in the Penobscot watershed as part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project’s new balance between energy production and fisheries. We look forward to working together with the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and other project partners to realize both energy and fisheries benefits for Maine.”

The demolition will cost approximately $62 million. This week alone, the momentum generated by this milestone resulted in new contributions for the project totaling approximately $3.8 million from foundation and private sources. Combined with generous funding throughout the project from numerous foundations, businesses and private donors, private contributions are now at $31 million. Simultaneously, DOI and NOAA are pledging to support the project with an additional $3.55 million in funding that would bring the federal government’s contribution to nearly $30 million. 

Major funding for the Great Works Dam removal was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, including funds for scientific monitoring of the project. Additional support came from the FWS national fish passage program and other public and private sources.

The Penobscot River is the largest river within Maine and second largest in New England, after the Connecticut River. Its tributaries flow from near Mount Katahdin in the North Woods through the heart of Maine to Penobscot Bay, draining 8,570 square miles, or about a quarter of the state. The Penobscot River Restoration Project's reconfiguration of dams will have a wide range of benefits for fish and wildlife populations, water quality and communities along the river while at the same time maintaining hydropower.

Completion of the project will have a positive impact on:

• Fish restoration: The project will significantly improve access to 1,000 miles of upstream habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon and other “upper river” species of commercial and recreational importance by removal of the Great Works and Veazie dams and installation of a fish bypass at Howland Dam. In addition, Black Bear Hydro will construct a fish lift at Milford and improve fish passage at other dams. Overall, populations of endangered Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewives, blueback herring and seven other species of migratory fish are expected to rebound. “Lower river” species, including endangered sturgeon, will regain full access to their historic river habitat.

• Energy: Maintaining hydroelectric power is a core element of this project. Black Bear Hydro has invested significant resources at its hydroelectric facilities, maintaining and potentially increasing hydro-power generation, while reducing the impact on migrating fish.

• Cultural traditions: The Penobscot River has been the ancestral home to the Penobscot Indians for more than 10,000 years. Removing Great Works and Veazie dams will rejoin the Penobscot Indian Nation’s homeland with the Atlantic Ocean.  A return of sea-run fish will also revitalize opportunities for culturally significant fishing and paddling traditions.

• Recreation: Recreational fishermen, paddlers, hikers, bird watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts will benefit from a restored river. Opportunities will improve over time due to increased species and habitat diversity. Outfitters, tour guides and other outdoor-related businesses stand to profit from increased recreational opportunities.

• Environment and natural resources: The increase in bio-diversity will enhance the entire Penobscot River ecosystem. As fish populations grow, bird populations will diversify because of an increasing food supply. Over time, the increase in historic herring biomass may also help restore commercial ground fisheries between the Gulf of Maine and the Penobscot.

• Job creation and economic benefits: The Penobscot River Restoration Project is creating or maintaining a variety of jobs for people in construction, engineering, and scientific industries while also creating new opportunities for long-term economic growth in the region. Potential economic opportunities include tourism due to restored and enhanced recreational use of the Penobscot River as well as improved commercial fisheries stock.

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