PENOBSCOT — A stroke of the pen last week brought to fruition more than two years of effort to restore the alewife resource in the Bagaduce River watershed.
Last Tuesday, Penobscot’s selectmen signed contracts with R.F. Jordan & Sons Construction Inc. of Ellsworth to install new fishways at Mill Brook and Winslow Stream in Penobscot. Construction of these fishways will improve fish passage, boosting historically important alewife runs and providing real benefits to the local community.
“It is exciting to be at this point in things,” Paul Bowen, chairman of the Penobscot Board of Selectmen, said in a statement announcing the signing last week. “These projects are meaningful for our community in a number of ways.”
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.
“These fish might as well have ‘food’ tattooed on their sides,” Penobscot Alewife Committee Chairman Bailey Bowden said this week. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town of Penobscot.”
Thanks to more than a year of collaboration led by the Alewife Committee and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, viable solutions to improve the two fishways have been designed and construction on both projects will soon begin.
“I believe they’re going to start next week at Pierce Pond,” Bowden said Tuesday. “That will take most of August. When it’s substantially done, they’ll start at Wights Pond.”
Both projects have received all of the required permits and all construction will take place during the July 15 to Sept. 30 period during which work is allowed on such projects on streams.
Bowden is enthusiastic about the project.
“Our committee’s primary focus is, of course, fish, and the positive impacts that restoring these fish runs can have on the Bagaduce River and Gulf of Maine,” he said in a written statement.
This week he said, “I’m hoping this is going to bring more interest to (alewife) runs that need to be restored in Brooksville and Sedgwick, river-wide. It’s building momentum to get everything restored back to the way it should be.”
According to Bowden, the two projects will help maintain current water levels in both ponds “for wildlife, residents and recreational users, as well as minimizing ongoing maintenance costs for the town.” The project also will provide viewing opportunities for educational purposes at the two ponds.
In recent years, a number of people in Penobscot were actively collecting data and monitoring the runs. They eventually formed the Penobscot Alewife Committee — one of the first such groups in Hancock County. Since early 2015, the committee collaborated with engineers, resource experts and others to move through the many steps needed to reach the point of preparing for construction.
“It’s quite an accomplishment — two years to get two fishway projects permitted and funded,” Bowden said.
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. The company also will be on site, monitoring the construction. The company engineered the natural granite fishway on Patten Stream in Surry.
The cost of the construction phase of the two projects will be $234,000, according to Ciona Ulbrich, a senior project manager for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, whom Bowden credited for leading the project.
A public informational meeting in December showed the plans for the nature-like pool and weir systems for the respective streams and pond outlets. Those drawings and more detailed engineering plans are available for viewing at the Penobscot town office.
Others that have been part of the collaboration include the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, several neighboring landowners, The Nature Conservancy of Maine, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maine Sea Grant and the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.
“These projects to restore fish passage and habitat build on years of voluntary land conservation work around this river’s watershed,” Ulbrich said.
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, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, and Maine Sea Grant.