ELLSWORTH — Brett Ciccotelli has a loaded calendar for next week.
On the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 15, the the Downeast Salmon Federation fisheries biologist will be at the Ellsworth Public Library, where the conservation group and the Friends of Graham Lake will host a joint meeting to review the status of the Union River dam’s relicensing.
The following evening, Ciccotelli will be the principal speaker at a meeting of the Downeast chapter of Georges River Trout Unlimited at Pat’s Pizza on the Bar Harbor Road.
The Tuesday meeting will explore how people can stay involved with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review of the application by Black Bear Hydro Partners to renew its license for the Union River dam now that the commission has published a draft environmental assessment (DEA) for the project.
The assessment contains a number of conditions that would limit the way the dam could operate under the terms of its new licenses including, among others, new limits on fluctuations of water levels in Graham Lake.
“The deadline for public comments on the federal DEA is Jan. 20,” Ciccotelli said. “It’s important to let FERC know what’s important” to people affected by the dam.
Under federal law governing licensing of hydropower dams, Ciccotelli said, “there’s no guarantee that what’s in the DEA will stand.”
If the license applicant contests various conditions they could change unless FERC knows that they are important to the public.
“We want people to know how they can connect to the feds,” Ciccotelli said. “If it doesn’t hear from the public, FERC won’t stand up to pushback from the other side.”
Whatever happens with the federal process, the public gets another bite at the apple when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection reviews Black Bear’s application for a discharge permit under Section 401 of the Clean Waters Act. The comment period for that application closes in early April, Ciccotelli said.
The state permitting process can act as a kind of “insurance policy” against changes in environmental requirements in the FERC license, but only if people let state regulators know what is important to them.
“If DEP isn’t hearing what (conditions) people really want, it’s less likely to include them.”
The Downeast Salmon Federation has worked with communities along the Union River during the federal licensing process.
In a statement announcing next Tuesday’s meeting, set for 6 p.m. at the Ellsworth Public Library, the organization said “we want to see more of the fish that belong in the river in the river … recreational access and opportunities to increase on Graham Lake … a healthier river for salmon and children to swim in.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 16, Georges River Trout Unlimited will host a Downeast Chapter meeting on Wednesday, at Pat’s Pizza in Ellsworth.
At that meeting, Ciccotelli will give a presentation titled “Restoring and Understanding Eastern Maine’s Native Fisheries.” His talk will begin at 7 p.m.
The Downeast Salmon Federation’s mission is to conserve wild Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish and their habitats, restore a viable recreational salmon fishery and to protect river, scenic and ecological resources in eastern Maine.
Ciccotelli has worked on diadromous fish monitoring and outreach in the Union River basin and throughout eastern Maine. He works on DSF’s habitat restoration team and helps steward the federation’s many miles of river protected through its land trust program.
Trout Unlimited is a nonprofit organization with a mission dedicated to conserve, protect and restore North America’s cold water fisheries and their watersheds.
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. with an informal gathering for those who wish to establish a Trout Unlimited chapter in Downeast Maine, converse and enjoy a casual meal.
A raffle will follow Ciccotelli’s presentation. The meeting is free and open to the public.
For more information, visit www.downeasttu.org.