City Council steps up

A variety of perspectives were articulated by the 200-plus residents who showed up for last Wednesday’s Ellsworth City Council workshop on the relicensing of the Graham Lake and Leonard Lake dams. Water level was the rallying point. Issues invoked included loss of property value, ecological damage, the dam owner’s profits, water quality and fish passage.

On one point, all were in agreement: the existing situation — particularly as it affects Graham Lake — cannot continue. If the 30-year license is to be renewed, it must be modified to take into account current realities, including drought, ecology and taxpayers.

There was at the workshop less unanimity on the question of what can be done and who can do it. Are the water levels the responsibility of dam owner Brookfield Renewable, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Ellsworth City Council? The answer supplied by a few of those who spoke Wednesday was plain enough: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, known as FERC, has the power.

FERC declined to participate in the workshop, according to a representative, because that agency is “decisional” and, therefore, does not participate in public pro-and-con conversations. Too bad; the agency’s presence might have prevented misunderstandings of the process.

As to who is in the best position to advocate for Ellsworth and the upriver towns, that question, too, yielded a persuasive answer: us. The people affected, best represented by the city of Ellsworth, must have their say. The Ellsworth City Council’s vote Monday night to apply for intervenor status gives the city and he upriver towns a seat at the table as FERC considers the license-renewal application. The council, though guardedly and with some reluctance, made the right call.

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