Engineers, conservationists, local representatives and a curious canine all gathered to break ground on a new fishway in Penobscot this week. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISSY ALLEN

Construction under way to improve historic alewife runs in Penobscot

PENOBSCOT — A ground-breaking ceremony was held Thursday to celebrate the beginning of construction on a new fishway at the outlet of Pierce Pond in Penobscot.

This is the second of two projects to restore fish passage at historic fish run streams in the town of Penobscot. Construction of these fishways will improve fish passage, boosting historically important alewife runs and providing real benefits to the local community.

Bailey Bowden, chairman of the town of Penobscot’s Alewife Committee, said, “This has been an incredible opportunity for the town of Penobscot. These projects could not have been done without the tremendous financial support from NOAA and TNC.

“These projects will make the last leg of what is an incredible migration route easier for the fish,” she continued. “We hope that these two projects are the first in a watershed-wide effort to restore fish runs.”

Hefting the first shovelfuls of earth were state Rep. Karl Ward (R-Dedham); Bailey Bowden, Penobscot Alewife Committee; Paul Bowen, chairman of Penobscot’s Board of Selectmen; Phil Rapp, selectman for Penobscot; Joseph McLean, engineer for Wright-Pierce; Matthew Bernier of NOAA; Ben Matthews of The Nature Conservancy; Ciona Ulbrich of Maine Coast Heritage Trust; and Hans Carlson of Blue Hill Heritage Trust.

For decades, historically important alewife runs at Mill Brook and Winslow Stream have been partially blocked.

These runs were not only part of the community’s heritage and economy, but also provided the Bagaduce River, Penobscot Bay and Gulf of Maine with the primary links in the food chain needed to feed the birds, seals and groundfish.

Now, thanks to nearly two years of collaboration led by the town of Penobscot’s Alewife Committee and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, viable solutions have been designed and are being implemented.

The project at Pierce Pond also will provide viewing and educational opportunities, with a viewing area, short footpath, and interpretive signage planned for the site.

In recent years, a number of people in town have been actively collecting data and monitoring the runs, eventually forming the Penobscot Alewife Committee — one of the first groups of its kind in this area.

For well over a year now, that committee has collaborated with others to deliberately move through the many steps needed to get to this point of preparing for construction.

Designing a way to restore fish passage with minimal impact on pond water levels involves the collection of a lot of data, and the expertise of engineers.

After a competitive bidding process, Wright-Pierce of Topsham, a firm with experience in fishway projects around Maine and New England, was selected to design the plans for nature-like fishways constructed of native stone.

Major funding for the project is being provided by The Nature Conservancy of Maine and NOAA. Additional funding for these projects has been received from a number of generous private donors excited about this work, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Maine Sea Grant.

“This community really appreciates the importance of healthy streams and spawning fish.” said Jeremy Bell of The Nature Conservancy. “We are very pleased to support these projects to achieve stream and fish run restoration in the town of Penobscot.”

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