WASHINGTON -- In an unprecedented action, staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have recommended that the 160-year-old Edwards Dam in August, Maine be removed in order to benefit the habitat and spawning potential of nine species of migratory fish that use the Kennebec River.
FERC's final environmental impact statement (FEIS) recently released, states: "We recommend retirement of the Edwards Project and complete removal of the dam." The Kennebec Coalition, a group of environmental organizations following the action, said the announcement represents the first time in history that FERC has recommended removal of an operating dam for which the dam owner was seeking a new license. The coalition said it is precedent setting for two reasons:
The announcement was applauded by members of the Kennebec Coalition -- including American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Council of Main, Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Chapter -- which have been waging a decade-long campaign to restore the Kennebec through removal of the Edwards Dam.
"This is a tremendous victory for rivers nationwide," stated Margaret Bowman, Director of Hydropower for American Rivers. "This federal agency is declaring that rivers need not be permanently shackled by environmentally damaging dams. FERC has finally recognized that the benefits of a healthy river are sometimes more important that a dam's nominal power generation, and with this decision, has opened the door to removing other dams across the country which for years have destroyed fish and wildlife habitats."
"If any dam deserves to be removed, Edwards Dam does," said Charles Gauvin, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. "Edwards is truly a dinosaur. Throughout New England and the Pacific Northwest, runs of anadromous fish, like salmon, have been decimated by dam after dam, which block upstream spawning runs, keep juvenile fish from reaching the sea, and wreak havoc with the natural flow patterns of our rivers. Not only will the removal of the Edwards Dam help restore one of Maine's few remaining native runs of Atlantic salmon, but it sets the stage for the restoration of other rivers where the ecological and economic value of healthy fisheries outweigh the benefits of dams."
"This is the major breakthrough that we have been working for," said Kennebec Coalition spokesperson Steve Brooke. "FERC has confirmed essentially everything that we have been saying for the past ten years about why this environmentally-damaging obstruction on the Kennebec must be removed. Now its full steam ahead for the Kennebec Coalition to ensure that the license for Edwards is denied and the dam is promptly removed.
In reaching its recommendation, FERC conducted an independent analysis of three options: 1) the relicensing request submitted by Edwards Manufacturing and the city of Augusta, Maine; 2) a relicensing alternative which would have left the dam in place and required investments by Edwards Manufacturing of almost $10 million on a fish passage system and which had been recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and 3) retirement and removal of the dam.
FERC staff concluded that retirement and removal of the dam would be the "best" approach as part of a comprehensive plan for improving and developing the Kennebec River Basin. FERC determined that installing a $10 million fishway would be 1.7 times more costly than retiring and removing the dam; removing the dam would allow shortnose sturgeon, striped bass, and rainbow smelt to reach 17 miles of historic upstream spawning habitat (these four particular migratory fish do not use fishways and thus would not be helped by installation of such a system); and removal of the dam would result in an overall increase in wetland habitat, recreational boating, and fishing benefits.
"What is so incredible about today's announcement is that it came from an agency that has never said 'no' to a dam operator who has been actively seeking a new license," said Didisheim. "To our delight, FERC has determined that the public purpose and environmental benefits that will be served through dam retirement and removal are so compelling that they outweigh the interests of the dam owner."
The staff recommendation contained in the FEIS is expected to be considered by the commissioners of FERC within the next six months. Although strongly recommending retirement and removal of the dam, FERC staff delineate approximately $10 million worth of investments that they recommend that the owners of the Edwards Dam be required to implement in the event the commissioners were to decide, against the staff recommendation, to issue a new license. Up until the announcement, owners of the Edwards dam have said that they would be unwilling to make such expenditures.
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