Penobscot Project Update

By Andrew Goode, Atlantic Salmon Federation

The Penobscot Trust is fully consumed in another busy field season on the Penobscot. As planned, the hydropower company finished the massive new fishlift at the Milford Dam (see photos below) just in time for the first fish to arrive. After the removals of the Great Works Dam (2012) and the Veazie Dam (2013), the Milford Dam is now the first and only dam in the lower river. I am very glad and encouraged that the lift has been passing all the target species from salmon to alewives to shad. The shad population in the Penobscot is thought to be very low and they are one of the more difficult species to get to pass through a dam. As a result, the biggest surprise in June was that the fish lift successfully passed 770 shad. Over 190,000 river herring passed through the fish lift which is up from just 52 herring being counted at the Veazie Dam two years ago. The salmon run was predicted to be low and is unfortunately fulfilling those expectations. The salmon that have come in have been very healthy looking but there just are not enough of them. As fewer smolts are killed with the fewer number of dams, we expect the salmon numbers will begin to increase starting in 2015 as a result of the Penobscot Project.

Great Works: It is hard to believe that the river has flowed freely for two years at Great Works, and it’s been two years since we went through all the angst around building a new water intake system for the adjacent mill. Today the river is now a tumbling set of rapids easily navigated by salmon. This dam removal eliminated the frequent salmon kills that occurred when the river warmed up and salmon could not use a poorly functioning fishway. ASF’s Maine Headwater’s Initiative has now built fishways on two tributaries below this site in Great Works Stream and Blackman Stream. River herring were documented swarming into this streams this spring with more than 187,000 counted in Blackman Stream alone.

Veazie: The former impoundment was always frozen in winter but this year the river flowed freely all winter through the area at Veazie, as you can see from this photo. Though we removed a large section of a remnant dam in the former impoundment, there remains a fair amount of legacy structures evident above the old site that date back to the old log drives and a former dam but none of these block fish passage. We believe most of this will give way over time to the forces of the free flowing river. The one remaining piece of this project is to demolish the former Veazie power station after our request to the town and public for proposals failed to generate any interest in keeping the structure.

Milford Fish lift: As is often overlooked, the hydropower company paid for this fishway out of the proceeds they received from the sale of the three dams. I would estimate that they have spent $10 million on this fish lift along with other fish passage improvements they had to make on the river. Though this fish lift is state of the art, they have a checkered past on the East Coast in terms of passing all the target species. This fish lift is critical to the success of the Penobscot Project and we all breathed a sigh of relief when river herring, shad and salmon were passed by the lift this spring. The lift is needed to pass the quantities of fish we expect to restore over time and to pass fish like shad that shy away from using more conventional fishways. The fish lift station includes a trap and sort facility; this is where Atlantic salmon are now captured to provide broodstock to the federal hatchery system. The viewing window below is part of the fish lift system.

Howland: As Laura Rose Day reports, we are intensely focused on getting the Howland bypass fully designed and ready for bid later this summer, with the beginning of construction in late fall. The final design is currently under state and federal agency review. Once their input is incorporated and FERC has signed off, we will be off and running. As reported previously, NOAA Fisheries would prefer dam removal (this was never was an option). They are now participating only in a regulatory role, which continues to frustrate all the state, federal, Native American, and NGO partners as we see the bypass as key to the overall success of the Penobscot Project. The Trust has received several grants in 2014 bringing the remaining funds needed to complete the project down from $1.7 million to about $1.1 million. This number includes funding for some of the project’s annual operation and maintenance costs of the bypass.