Branch Mills Dam project update

The Branch Mills Dam before the mill was razed. Photo from Krisweb

by Bob Van Riper

Branch Mills Dam is one of three major barrier removal projects in the Sheepscot River corridor being undertaken by the Midcoast Conservancy, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and other conservation partners. The primary intent of these projects is the restoration of fish passage for a variety of sea-run fish species to the river. Branch Mills Dam is the only project sited on the West Branch of the river.

An example of an Alaskan steeppass fishway installed below the bridge on Souadabscook Stream in Hampden, Maine. (Photo source: Atlantic Salmon Federation)

Goals for the project are to update the structural condition of the dam to safe standards, install a Steeppass fishway, create a hand-carry boat launch for public access, develop and install security and safety structures and landscape the site.

The Branch Mill structure was removed in July 2017 in advance of a purchase and sale agreement between the owner Branch Mills Flour and Grain and the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF). In late July, ASF met with the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) to assess the structural condition of the dam without the presence of the mill structure, which had formerly rested on the spillway of the dam. No engineering plans for the original construction or subsequent repairs are known to exist. Consensus resulting from the review determined the need for an engineering evaluation of the condition of the dam, along with design details for any required repair of the structure. In addition MEMA indicated that an update of the Emergency Action Plan for the dam was necessary and MDEP said that the existing operation plan was insufficient and needed to be rewritten. Additionally, prior evaluations by MEMA indicated that the deep gates were inoperable due to partial collapse of the mill structure.

In August, the owner of the dam demonstrated that all three deep gates in the structure were operational.

This photo shows the old abandoned mill that sat on top of the dam at the outlet of Branch Pond at the headwaters of the West Branch Sheepscot River. This dam has no fish passage facilities. The mill has since been demolished.
Photos courtesy China Town Office

ASF acquired the dam and adjacent property in September 2017. Removal of the mill building, which had formerly served as access for and housed the hoisting system for the deep gates, left the mechanism exposed. ASF attempted to retain a building contractor to build a housing structure and an access walkway for the gate mechanism. For large contractors, the job was too small to be of interest, smaller contractors lacked sufficient insurance to comply with OSHA regulations. ASF then searched for a temporary means of access. Currently, ASF is working on using prefabricated metal staging planks with railings for access to the gates until construction of the project begins and permanent structures are built.

In October, ASF wrote an Operational Plan for the dam based on the current water level and outflow requirements stated in the MDEP Water Level Order for Branch Pond. The organization also developed an Emergency Action Plan in coordination with MEMA. Both plans were accepted by the respective agencies in mid-November. The Emergency Action Plan was subsequently revised and resubmitted in January 2018 after comments offered by several responders.

In November 2017, an MOU was developed and signed between ASF and the Branch Pond Association (BPA) initiating a partnership in the operation of the dam. Also in November, a Request for Proposals for engineering services was advertised. An on-site meeting was held in early December with prospective consultants to describe aspects of the work and answer any questions in regards to the proposed scope of work. As a result, ASF retained the services of Kleinschmidt Associates, of Pittsfield, in January 2018 to provide a design for a Steep pass fishway, an evaluation of the dam, provide design for correcting structural deficiencies, designing a hand-carry boat launch, design and installation of access and cover structures and other site improvements. Kleinschmidt will commence its efforts beginning with a kick off meeting in February 2018.

Bob Van Riper is with the Midcoast Conservancy of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The state of disrepair of the old Branch Pond Mill. Photos courtesy China Town Office