ELLSWORTH — City councilors voted unanimously on Monday evening to allow the Downeast Salmon Federation to go forward with plans to remove an unused dam between Branch Lake stream and Leonard Lake.
The group has been pushing to remove the dam to improve fish passage and habitat, including opening areas for blueback herring and Atlantic salmon. The Downeast Salmon Federation will foot the bill for the project.
As of January, the federation had secured $66,500 in funding for the dam’s removal and disposal of the concrete, former City Planner Michele Gagnon wrote in a letter to councilors.
Estimates for the project range from between $30,000 for partial removal to $68,000 to get rid of the structure entirely, according to the letter.
The federation is still waiting on several federal permits, some of which were delayed by the government shutdown, but the removal “needs to be completed by the end of 2019 — before the funding expires,” Gagnon said.
To clarify, said fisheries biologist Brett Ciccotelli on Monday, “This dam does not make Branch Lake.”
The dam, built in the early 1900s, originally created a drinking water reservoir for the city but hasn’t been used in at least 20 years, Gagnon said.
“Removal of the structure will address a public safety hazard,” she continued, “as well as decrease liability.”
The planned removal is separate from the relicensing process taking place for the massive hydroelectric dam that forms Leonard Lake.
On Monday, Ciccotelli mentioned the federation’s ongoing efforts to improve fish passage at that dam but noted that it would likely be at least a decade before many of the improvements are made, if they do come to pass.