Get smart on dam’s long-term future

Dear Editor:

I live at the end of Third Street and I have a view of Leonard Lake and its associated dam from my property. I canoe, fish and swim in both Leonard and Graham lakes (my family owns a home on Graham Lake), so it is fair to say the dam’s existence, and the regulation of water levels on Graham Lake, directly affects my family. Knowing this, one might think I am opposed to removal of the Leonard Lake Dam. Not so. I am in support of a thoughtful solution that considers the effects the dam, or its removal, has on the greater Ellsworth community, with careful consideration given not just economic benefits, but a healthy and robust fishery.

It is well known that run-of-river is critical to the biological processes of anadromous and catadromous fishes, and in order to maintain healthy fish populations, successful, non-lethal passage must be maintained! Approving the relicensing of the dam should not be the assumed outcome unless it can be shown that successful and robust fish passage is achievable.

Furthermore, it should be noted that by removing the dam and returning the river to its pre-dam flow, there could be significant benefits to the local economy by attracting whitewater sports enthusiasts and supporting businesses. There has been a significant shift in the last century away from removing natural resources as a means to creating jobs, to maintaining and benefiting from them. We need not look any further than Acadia National Park to see how preservation and good stewardship of natural resources has grown the economy of Hancock County!

But this may not be a win or lose situation. The Damariscotta Mills fish ladder in Newcastle, Maine, is a successful fish passage that has been developed and maintained through strong community involvement in conjunction with IF&W. It has also been a huge success both environmentally and economically with over 900,000 alewives returning to spawn in 2013 and the annual Alewife Festival attracting 20,000 people over a weekend last summer! This is not just an economic pulse; it is long-term growth that benefits everyone.

If there is a way to continue the use of hydropower and allow the safe and successful passage of alewives and salmon both up and down the Union River, then I am in support of that effort. However, I find it unacceptable to renew the license strictly to maintain the status quo. We should get smart about this and take the long view.

Toby Stephenson


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