Union River fisheries are vitally important for healthy Downeast economy

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to Dwayne Shaw’s common-sense editorial “The future of the Union River[Ellsworth American, March 1]. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued public notice of a new license application for the Union River dams. This process has an April 9 deadline that is the last time the public can comment on the details of this license. Over 750 signatures were gathered during the last two years. Petitioners want 1) Safe up and down fish passage at both dams, 2) Graham Lake managed as a healthy lake and the state of Maine to use its power to issue an effective 401 water quality certificate.

The new license proposed by Brookfield Energy Systems will not stop the notorious fish and eel kills that have been well documented each spring and fall as these sea-run fish make their way back to the oceans. The Union River Dam has been killing fish since 1909. These are the fisheries that require safe passage from the ocean to the rivers where they lay their eggs and then go back to the ocean (diadromous fish). The Union River is a vital link in the ecology and economy of our local lobster fisheries. The license proposed by the owners, Brookfield and Black Bear, does not offer anything to save the fish returning to spawn and it does nothing to manage water levels at Graham Lake.

This is a watershed moment where the future of the Union River can be shaped to enhance both our economy and ecology and the ecological illiteracy of the past can be reversed. If we allow this relicensing without allowing safe and effective fish passage at both dams, then we are truly letting down our near future generations of hard-working Mainers. If we do not remove the fish blockages then we will be guilty of crimes against nature because we know in our Maine hearts that the Union River deserves to flow freely and Graham Lake needs the 401 water quality certificate. This is common sense.

Therefore, I am sending this letter to DEP Commissioner Paul Mercer (287-2812, [email protected] 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Nicolas Palso (FERC project P-2727, 202-502-8854, [email protected].) to plead with them for a common sense 401 water quality certificate and make the Union River great again by allowing safe and effective fish passage.

Like every taxpayer along the coast of Maine, my business will be positively affected if we all make the right decision for the health of the Union River. We are all stakeholders in the current Union River Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license application for the Union River dams. By allowing these dams to stop the natural flow of the sea run fisheries for another 40 years is criminal and must end now.

To the residents who live on the Union River, I ask you to remember that you live on a river. The Union River, if allowed to flow freely, will fuel an economic revival of Blue Hill and the surrounding bays in concert with the 401 water quality certification as the standard for the future. It is time to stop thinking about seasonal boats and docks and start being concerned about the ecology of this once mighty river. Do you really care about the river? According to Dwayne Shaw, executive director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, there is the potential for 9 billion Alewives to spawn out of a healthy Union River plus salmon and eels. These are the forage fish that feed humans, other fish and birds, and they are the bait for lobsterman, a $350 million a year industry.

All of the “mudflats” that are exposed during dry periods and drawdowns (see Jan. 4 Ellsworth American photo) are really wetland riverine habitats that could be the breeding grounds for shrub-loving neotropical migrant birds like warblers, which nest in Maine during the summer. These habitats should revert back to riverine edge habitat in a perfect world, where birds are breeding alongside a river with thriving alewives. Please think about the possibilities and the future of the Union River.

Everyone, including Black Bear, Brookfield and the city of Ellsworth, must publicly recognize that the Union River dams are destroying the biodiversity and economy of the Union River, Blue Hill Bay and surrounding waters. For what? It is time for this dam to be removed as a barrier to fish. It is time society takes responsibility. Please, the stakeholders include your children’s children.

Michael J. Good, MS

Town Hill

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