Home Somerset rules Future of Shawmut Dam and Sappi Plant remains uncertain

Future of Shawmut Dam and Sappi Plant remains uncertain

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The future of the Shawmut Dam remains in question. Following a draft decision which announced the intention of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to deny Brookfield White Pine Hydro’s request to renew its license to operate the Shawmut Dam, Brookfield withdrew its request.

The company has announced its intention to file a new application within 60 days. The DEP would have one year after receiving the request to make a decision.

If DEP were to deny Brookfield’s second claim, the decision would likely result in the closure of Sappi’s Somerset paper mill. The long-term survival of the dam is uncertain, but it is licensed until January 31, 2022 following a one-year extension issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on December 11, 2018.

Brookfield is currently seeking to renew the operation of the dam with FERC. The agency said it would take the DEP’s decision into its own, which means a DEP denial could result in a denial of the FERC license renewal and removal of the dam. Sappi said removing the dam would lower the water level in the Kennebec River, making it impossible for the plant to operate.

Brookfield first filed for Water Quality Certification (WQC) to renew the permit and continue operating the Shawmut hydroelectric project on August 28, 2020.

In its plan to reject the request, the DEP claims that the continued operation of the dam would not allow sufficient numbers of Atlantic salmon to cross it. Although the rejection concluded that the water quality was suitable for drinking water and to support recreational activities, it ruled that the rejection from the dam made the water an unsuitable habitat for fish and other aquatic species. .

As part of its CQE application, Brookfield proposed to construct a new upstream fish elevator and fish passage channel to facilitate the passage of various species of fish, but particularly Atlantic salmon, upstream. . As of 2009, Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment of the Kennebec River have been on the federal endangered species list. FERC rejected a previous species protection plan submitted by Brookfield in July 2020 following comments from several federal environmental agencies, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and DEP.

Brookfield estimated that its fish lift would lead to a 96% survival rate for the Atlantic salmon passing through it. It also offered to study the efficiency of its fish elevator and canal for three years and implement minor structural and operational changes as needed if it did not meet performance standards as required. the National Marine Fisheries Services.

But the DMR says that number is not good enough. The DMR sets a “minimum target” of a 99% survival rate for Atlantic salmon crossing the dam. Anything below it likely means the waters around the dam will be “of insufficient quality to support self-sustaining returns of these native species and prevent the recovery of endangered Atlantic salmon” in the region, according to the DMR.

As part of its refusal, the DEP cites the conclusions of the DMR and concludes that Brookfield has not demonstrated that its fish haul project will restore spawning and rearing habitats upstream, nor demonstrated that its passage facilities in downstream will meet the performance standards necessary to maintain Atlantic salmon populations.

This decision has already proved controversial.

The DMR had previously presented a plan to review its management of the river which would have required dams to improve fish passage methods and allow the passage of more fish, in particular Atlantic salmon. The plan, which had the support of Governor Janet Mills, would likely have resulted in the removal of four dams on the Kennebec River, including the Shawmut Dam.

The DMR was forced to abandon the plan after being sued by Brookfield in Kennebec County Superior Court. As the state conducted a legal review of its proposed new rules, it found that it had developed the plan under a law that did not give it the power to implement the proposed changes.

The fact that DMR’s recommendations played a significant role in DEP’s decision to deny Brookfield’s renewal application has led some to conclude that politics did play a role.

Senator Brad Farrin (R-Somerset) sharply criticized the administration’s efforts to close the Shawmut Dam. Farrin, whose district includes Sappi, accused Mills of being determined to remove the dam.

“After Mills’ Department of Marine Resources failed to force the removal of at least two dams on the river through illegal regulations last spring, she turned to her Department of Marine Resources. Environmental Protection Officer who recently issued a draft denial of a ‘water quality certification’ for Shawmut, ”Farrin said in a Press release.

Sappi alleges that the DMR’s goal of a 99% survival rate for Atlantic salmon passing through a fish elevator is unachievable.

Sappi forwarded DEP’s draft denial of Brookfield’s application to Acheron Engineering for review. William Ball, the group’s chairman, called the 99% survival rate “a sham intended to bring about the removal of the dam.”

He Noted that Brookfield’s estimated 96% survival rate resulting from the installation of a new fish ladder is consistent with rates that have been accepted by DEP for other dams in Maine.

“The MDEP should set standards for any license, permit or WQC that are reasonable and based on sound science. The MDEP did not use a reasonable and scientific standard in this case, and did not act in a manner consistent with its past practice or the practice of fishing agencies, ”Ball wrote.

Jim Brooks, Environmental Manager at Sappi, appeared at WVOM’s George Hale Ric Tyler Show on August 20 and said removing the dam would drop water levels on the Kennebec River from 20 feet to 4 or 6 feet and reduce the width of the river by several hundred feet . This would leave the plant’s water intake and wastewater infrastructure out of the water and likely result in its closure. Brooks estimated that this would result in the loss of more than 700 jobs.

Before its WQC application was denied, Sappi contracted with the TRC Environmental Corporation to to study alternative solutions that would allow them to draw water from shallow sources, in the event of the dam closing. The CRT found that other solutions would require Sappi to “design, authorize and construct major modifications to its intake and diffuser systems, and it is entirely possible that no such system could be made.” designed, licensed and constructed to supply sufficient water to meet the demand of the mill.

If the plant closes, Maine will lose both jobs and property tax revenue. It is estimated that Fairfield loses $ 389,000 a year in property taxes without the Sappi plant.

But the dam’s uncertain future may also put at risk the same fish that DMR and DEP are trying to protect. Brookfield’s plans to install the $ 15 million fish ladder are on hold. The company will not invest the money if the dam is to be closed.

This means that improvements to the dam designed to help fish navigate the dam and improve their survival rate will not be made until the government makes a final decision on the future of the dam.

Photo: qnr, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons