OPINION: Proponents of LD922 uninformed, not concerned

Alewives by John Burrows (source: mainerivers.org)

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Ursula Burke
Certified Water Monitor, Sheepscot Pond

It is alarming that those who favor passing bill LD922 are either uninformed or not concerned with the consequences of opening the fishway at the Sheepscot Pond dam to allow alewife herrings, American eels and sea lamprey eels access to the lake during spring spawning season.

Even the conservationists and environmentalists who tout restoring the historic spawning ground of native fish ignore history which will be repeated if this bill passes. During the 1970’s-80’s the fishway was opened and during seasons of low water levels sea lamprey eels became landlocked. They “wintered over” causing them to feed on the sport fish populations resulting in diminished catches and emaciated togue, landlocked salmon and bass.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife recognized the problem and closed the fishway during the spring spawning season. Now 30 some years later the lamprey population has diminished so that game fish are caught without lamprey wounds. They are healthier and of normal weight. The lake now hosts several fishing derbies every year.

If the supporters of LD922 were not distracted by the profit motive of alewife harvesting to supply bait for the lobster industry, they would take notice of the turnaround Sheepscot Pond has made and recognize the value of such a healthy and prolific lake to the community and all who now enjoy its recreational attributes not to mention supporting the tax base for Palermo.

LD922 offers us, the true stakeholders of Palermo and Sheepscot Pond, nothing but risk. It tramples on the rights of the “little guy” and feels downright un-American and wrong.

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COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Slippery facts on Sheepscot Pond re-introduction of species

Alewives by John Burrows (source: mainerivers.org)

by Buck O’Herin
Montville resident

Feelings are running high in some communities about the potential re-introduction of sea-run fish species into Sheepscot Pond and the potential for these species to impact the fresh water fishery through disease and predation. The front page article in The Town Line newspaper on January 25 quoted several reasons why a couple of community groups oppose the re-introduction of these species. Many of the points listed were misleading and did not give appropriate context, and some were outright false.

It is crucial to remember that both alewives and sea lampreys are native to Maine and our rivers, lakes, and ponds. They both spend time at sea and migrate back to lakes and rivers to spawn. Sheepscot Pond represents 40 percent of the historic alewife habitat above Head Tide in the Sheepscot River. Many Maine lakes have healthy runs of alewives and other sea-run species and also maintain healthy populations of freshwater game fish. Alamoosook Lake, in Orland, has had an alewife migration for years, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a hatchery there. The lake has a healthy fresh water fishery that includes salmon, brook trout, brown trout, bass, and eel.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service tested alewives from the St. Croix River from 2014 to 2016 for seven different diseases. None were found to be carrying any diseases. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been offered assistance to ensure there is proper filtration and disinfection of water at the Palermo facility. Even though most other IF&W hatcheries have this equipment, the Department has so far chosen not to accept the help.

Adult sea lamprey cannot survive in freshwater and die after spawning. As young adults, they are primarily trying to get to sea, not feed when they do attach to fresh water fish. It is very common to install small notches in a dam to make sure young adult lampreys can get to sea with a trickle of water, even if water is not flowing over the dam. Sea lamprey are probably already in Sheepscot Pond. They can get through the open fish ladder at the Coopers Mills Dam, into Long Pond, and over the Sheepscot Pond dam as long as water is flowing.

The proposal in front of the legislature would open the Sheepscot Pond fish ladder year-round, that IF&W currently blocks for two months of the year. Water already flows over the dam, especially in the spring. U.S. Geological Survey records show the Sheepscot River flows at an average of 734 cubic feet per second in April. The fish ladder at Sheepscot Pond is designed to use about 6 cubic feet per second. Allowing the fish ladder to be open increases flow to the river by only 0.82 percent. The lake level would not be significantly affected.

We should be thoughtful about how we make this decision and depend on the science. There is abundant evidence that restoring fish passage to the entire Sheepscot River is beneficial for all native fish species and the Sheepscot Pond ecosystem.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Endangered – Clean Water Act

Image Credit: chinalakeassociation.org

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Lynne O’Connor
China resident

As a local China Lake Smart volunteer, I have seen the improvements citizens, volunteers, and organizations are bringing to our lakes, streams, and waterways.

However, on the federal level, two impending federal actions threaten Maine lakes and all streams, rivers, estuaries and marine environments to which they drain. The issues are radical cuts to Clean Water Act funding and repeal of the Clean Water Rule protecting wetlands and the headwater streams which provide the last remaining habitat for Eastern brook trout and feed all downstream waters. I urge you to ensure these vital protections for the integrity, health and benefits of Maine waters remain secure in 2018 and beyond.

The natural waters of Maine are our (as citizens of Maine) high value assets which generate over $3.5B in economic activity, are a joy to fishermen and all who enjoy the beauty and activities they provide, fuel 52,000 jobs, power local and property tax bases, and provide drinking water to 1/3 of our citizens each year. Currently, 53 of our 2,314 great ponds are impaired and bloom annually, more than 490 are ‘at risk from development,’ and 172 are High Priority Lake Watersheds (MEDEP). The only public funds available in Maine to prevent decline of Maine waters (lakes, streams, wells, all natural waters), and which restore impaired lakes, come from EPA’s Clean Water Act “Nonpoint Source (319)” Funds. Since 2008, seven lakes and one stream have been brought back from impairment by the 319 Program. Last year alone, fifteen 319 projects kept 500 tons of sediment, 550 pounds of phosphorus and 1,000 pounds of nitrogen out of Maine lakes and streams. Federal grants require in-state match, doubling their impact: $1,830,000 in 2015. Please see more info on this and the Clean Water Rule at http://mainelakessociety.org/advocacy/

What can you and I do? Call, Maine Senate: 1-800-423-6900, write, email, post, your concerns, and request our senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, vote against these changes in the Clean Water Act funding, and the repeal of the Clean Water Rule.

Complex renovation would improve ADA access

Community Commentary

During the Friday night football game at Messalonskee, you can find Carlton (Sonny) Mitchell, age 80, and a resident of a seniors’ home in Sidney, sitting in his favorite spot just inside the bleachers to the left, as he cheers on the home team repeating “GO EAGLES!”

Jon Dubois, also of Sidney, drives his brother-in-law Sonny to the games with his family and indicates that Sonny is one of the Eagles’ biggest fans.

Sonny uses a walker and Dubois’s wife also walks with a cane, so they are very eager to see plans move forward to renovate the Messalonskee High School facilities that will give those with limited mobility better access. Dubois states “We need bleachers with a handicap accessible ramp and platform where you can walk right out, and there is a separated space up high just for those who need it with good views of the field.”

RSU#18 has proposed a $13.9 million bond investment to address a number of safety and access related issues which will be on a ballot during the November 7th town voting in Oakland, Sidney, Rome, Belgrade, and China. The Athletic Complex portion of the bond is $3.9 million.

Dubois, who decades ago was part of parent group that put the first lights on the field, states “This investment will eliminate the mud bowls we have had and make the upkeep of the field much easier. There’s a lot of history there of people in the community that would like to see everything updated around this field. I think if it was there, more kids would want to utilize it.”

Along the hill there are always a row of community members placed strategically closest to the parking spaces which sit high above the field to watch the game. Included among them are students and their families that use wheelchairs. Paula Nadeau’s husband has limited mobility and his son graduated from Messalonskee in 2017 playing three sports – football, lacrosse and track. She states “A Dad with mobility issues cannot get to the sidelines to congratulate his son after a victory or console him after a loss. Instead he has to stand on top of the hill watching the other parents while he waits for his son to come to him.”

Donna and Stacy McCurdy have a son who is now a sophomore and uses a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. They have another child who will be in high school next year. McCurdy states, “Getting there is always a challenge for our family.

According to the Messalonskee Middle and High School All Sports Boosters, the athletic complex renovations will address existing safety and ADA access issues as well as install a competition legal track, 4 sport synthetic turf field and update the existing lights, scoreboard and sound system. The project will quadruple the number of practice/playing hours of this facility opening it up to wider community recreational use. For more information visit www.allsportsboosters.com

Sheepscot Pond will benefit from alewives

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Frank Richards
President Webber Pond Assn.

I read, with interest, the Community Commentary column about LD 922 in last week’s issue of The Town Line (October 5). This is legislation to open the fish way on Sheepscot Lake and allow sea-run alewives to return.

That column makes a reference to Webber Pond . . . “but, overabundance of alewives (as has been experienced recently in Webber Pond) can degrade water quality and cause other complications.”

I am the president of the Webber Pond Association. That commentary goes way beyond both the discussion at our annual meeting this August and the article in The Town Line about that meeting by Roland Hallee, published in September.

There has never been a recorded case of overabundance in a spawning run causing problems. Alewives have overpopulated in the Great Lakes. However, that is comparable to living in the ocean, not a spawning run from the ocean to an inland lake.

Webber has had alewives since 1997. The run has slowly grown over an approximately 20-year period. In 2014 the run plateaued at 350,000 spawning adults and seems to have stabilized at that number, way more than we ever expected.

The Webber Pond Asso­cia­tion is trying to learn about an academic model, which estimates inputs of nutrients from spawning adults and outputs of nutrients from out migrating juveniles. Evidently, it may be possible to estimate an optimum sized run for Webber, where the most nutrients would be exported.

It’s fair to say that the Webber Pond Association has questions about the size of the run. At least one person has undocumented suspicions that it has become so big that it may be degrading water quality. However, rumors about overabundance of alewives actually causing problems on Webber Pond are erroneous.

It is important for people interested in LD 922 to understand that Webber’s experiences with alewives have been positive and alewives are popular among its residents. The lake has cleared substantially following their return.

When alewife restoration began in the mid-1990s, we too heard about the studies, mostly from the Midwest, which warned of negative effects. However, nearly 30 years later none of those problems ever materialized.

The good experiences on Webber have been replicated locally on Three Mile Pond and Togus Pond. Further north, Sebasticook Lake, Pushaw Lake, Chemo Pond, and Davis Pond have also had the same good experiences.

Last year, I was invited by a representative from the Natural Resources Council to testify in favor of LD 922 at the initial hearing. The committee seemed to already know about the positive effects of alewives on several inland lakes. As one might expect, it also seemed well aware of the economic development benefits of alewives to the lobster industry as bait and to the ocean fishery as forage.

The committee has probably been advised that the fish ladder passed alewives for many years without creating problems for the rearing station. They seemed openly skeptical about both lampreys and rearing station issues.

Several people with scientific credentials testified in favor of LD 922. No one with credentials testified in opposition. If it had been a fight, they would have stopped it.

A legislative committee will listen respectfully to any citizen. However, on something like this, at some point there needs to be confirmation by a scientist, before the committee will give those views much weight.

The Sheepscot Lake Association has been engaging in a political campaign to defeat LD 922. They are acting in good faith, out of concern for the lake’s welfare.

I wish they had reached out more to get a broad range of ideas and professional advice. I will assert that they have arrived on the wrong side of history and are actually opposing something that has worked well on other lakes and that credentialed scientists believe would benefit Sheepscot.

Alewives are the means by which nutrients are exchanged between the ocean and inland lakes. There is more involved than simple clearing of lakes, such as Webber, with phosphorus imbalances.

I predict that LD 922 will be reported out of committee as “Ought to Pass,” possibly by unanimous vote. I predict that a few years down the road, after gaining experience with alewives, Sheepscot’s residents will be as happy as the residents of any other lake that has them.

PALERMO: Our little piece of the world: Sheepscot Pond

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Pamela McKenney, Palermo resident

A bill has been proposed by a Maine representative to open the fishway at the outlet of Sheepscot Pond and to grant management of the fishway to the Department of Marine Resources. I have lived on the river since 1989 near the bridge on Route Three. Being a water person, I know the river and the lake and have a perspective to share regarding the controversy as well as the names of representatives you should contact if you share my concerns.

Living by the water, every season has its treasures. In the winter, I have a frozen, silver-white path that leads up river and around the bends to the lake. Whether walking, skiing, or snowmobiling, this access to the woods and the sky and the air out on the water is a pleasure that is difficult to express. After ice out, a new trove of pleasures opens up. I boat often, and I love to swim—even taught swimming lessons at the Fish and Game Club for several years—so I understand the unique resource of Palermo’s lake and what it has to offer its inhabitants—human and otherwise. I also fish the Sheepscot, each season; when the flag is up, I still run to the holes; or when reeling in a keeper at the mouth of the river, feel my heart beat faster, hoping. This wealth of experience enjoyed by me and many others may be attributed to careful lake management. Could it be better? Yes, but it could be much, much worse, as we may soon see— if LD 922 passes in January.

People, like me, have been accused of “having our hackles up” and needing a little time to get over our “hysteria.” These comments convey a disregard for those who enjoy or live by the lake and have expressed concern about the proposed changes. l am quite familiar with the birds and species of fish, reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife that depend on the watershed. I know that if I pull a perch or pickerel out of the lake in winter or see a snapping turtle lay eggs in a sandy embankment in spring, then I’ll be swimming with those creatures in the summer. People who live by and recreate on or in a Maine lake, accept and respect that other living beings exist near or in the water, as do my children and now grandchildren who know the gift of life on water.

Every summer we salt the leg of a swimmer to get a leech to detach. From my kayak I have watched with horrified fascination as a snake, on the bank of the river, slowly consumed a frog. Out off the point of Bear Island, years ago, I investigated a line, tied to a float, and pulled up a trap that was teeming with American eel. I quickly dropped the trap and paddled away knowing that regardless of how far or how fast I move my boat, the eel, the snake, snapping turtles and leeches will be there. This is life on the lake. My protestations over this bill is not about an hysterical fear of sea lamprey. The idea of swimming with a lamprey does not appeal to me but I wish it no harm. I now know more about these creatures than I ever expected, and I have learned that denying lamprey access to Sheepscot Pond will not harm them, nor will denial harm the alewife, but opening access may do a great deal of harm to other lake inhabitants.

Humans will find a way to live with “the good, the bad, and the ugly” that inhabit the lake, but will the species of fish on which the lamprey feed withstand the parasitic interaction? Of specific concern is the lake trout (togue) and other game fish. Back in the late seventies, early eighties, when I fished the Sheepscot with friends, I remember the scars on the fish we caught left by the lamprey. I remember the comments of the real fishermen who said the lamprey did not leave the lake as they should in late summer. They stayed and fed on the game fish. Low water levels changed the habits of these sea creatures, making them landlocked. The sea lamprey overpopulation became such a problem that the Department Inland Fisheries and Wildlife blocked the fishway at the dam from May to June to prevent anadromous species, such as, alewife, American eel, and sea lamprey, from migrating into the lake.

Since alewife feed on zooplankton which contribute to algae blooms (alewife do not eat the algae) many are excited about their reintroduction, hoping for improved water quality for struggling Maine lakes, but overabundance of alewife (as has been experienced recently in Webber Pond) can degrade water quality and cause other complications. According to the Illinois Department of Conservation’s 1993 Biodiversity Report the presence of alewife could “restructure a lake’s food web, leaving less food for native species” like white perch and smelts, thus “limiting their availability to larger predators” such as lake trout and salmon. A.L. Houde, et al in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, reports that “consumption of alewife which contain high levels of thiaminase,” reduces absorption of thiamin in predators such as salmonids (like salmon, trout, whitefish) and can cause “reduced body condition, swim performance, and other potential impacts.” What will happen when thousands of alewife make their way into the Fish Cultural Station at the outlet? Imagine the challenges of mitigation and the need to prevent contamination. Who would test the delicate balance of a lake environment?

When I ask why would we take control of an inland lake from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which has managed it for 50 plus years, and give it to the Department of Marine Resources? The one answer I get is: “to return anadromous fish to their origins.” That is the politically correct answer. I see it as a special interest group lobbying to benefit their “special interest” without completely considering the impact on this individual lake. We all tend to see what we want to see and maybe those who support the bill see that they are attempting to take the watershed back to the way it may have been before the dam existed and before the Fish Cultural Station (hatchery) existed and before the lake was peppered with homes that reap tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenue which pays for those departments and the salaries of representatives that now want to restore the watershed even though the existing water quality of Sheepscot Pond is currently good. A vicious circle.

But the dam does exist, as does the hatchery and the homes. This is a complicated issue made more complicated by those who lobby representatives to create bills for monetary gain—in this case those that would harvest the alewife which will flourish with access to Branch Pond, China Lake, Webber Pond, Long Pond, and now—if the bill passes—Sheepscot Pond. It is no secret that the representative who proposed the bill is the president of the alewife association but is it a conflict of interest? He represents coastal communities which will benefit from an abundance of alewife for bait. Let’s hope the representatives of Palermo and neighboring towns will consider our “little piece of the world,” as well as the interests of a currently healthy lake.

Sheepscot Pond is not just any lake to me, what does that make me guilty of? Guilty of caring about the changes that others would haphazardly impose. And when I am accused of focusing on my “little piece of the world” and not seeing the “big world” I won’t apologize for that. If more of us paid attention to the little things—the things right in front of us that we can actually do something about, then maybe those little actions should be taken. The health and wealth of our lake may change irrevocably with the scribble of a pen or removal of a barrier. Change can be good, but too often it is wrought for the benefit of specialized interests and we fail to consider the little pieces of the big world.

Saige Knightv enrolled at St. Lawrence University

St. Lawrence University, in Canton, New York, has welcomed Saige Knight, of Oakland, as a member of the class of 2021. Knight attended Messalonskee High School.

Palermo residents demand better consideration on dam issue

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Ursula Burke
Palermo resident

Several environmental groups (Mid-Coast Conservancy; Atlantic Salmon Federation) and Maine State agency (Department of Marine Resources) are advocating opening the Sheepscot Lake fishway to alewife herrings, American eels and parasitic sea lamprey eels. They say it is a river restoration project. But look at the history of the past 40-50 years on this lake. The lamprey eels damaged the rare, self-sustaining population of togue to the point that the fishway was closed for many decades. Now the evidence of damage to these fish has receded.

The Maine legislature will vote on bill LD922, introduced by State Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, who is also the founder and executive director of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine, to wrest control of the Sheepscot Lake dam from Inland Fish & Wildlife over to Marine Resources. Isn’t it a coincidence that alewives are used as bait for the lobster industry and that Mr. Pierce has an economic interest in having this bill pass? Isn’t this an obvious conflict of interest and an abuse of political position for personal gain?

And to reintroduce these fishes into Sheepscot Lake after many decades of being blocked is like introducing entirely new species. Yet no environmental impact studies or engineering studies have been done to gauge the impact to either the fish rearing station just downstream, to the existing fish population, or to water levels in the lake.

We, the Palermo residents and property owners of Sheepscot Lake, demand better consideration than this on behalf of this beautiful, balanced lake. It is a David and Goliath battle. Who will win…. the small town of Palermo or big business greed?

Vassalboro recognized for supreme annual town report

The municipalities of Caribou, Vassalboro, Mount Desert, Carrabassett Valley and Cranberry Isles were recognized for producing the highest-quality Annual Reports, during recent judging held at Maine Municipal Association.

MMA’s Annual Report Competition, which has been held for 50 years, recognizes municipalities for producing reports for their citizens that have excellent content, are well organized and visually appealing. More than 240 municipalities entered reports this year.

Judges for MMA rate the reports in five population categories: 5,000 and over; 2,500 to 4,999; 1,000 to 2,499; 500 to 999; and, under 500. Awards are named Supreme (first place), Superior (second place) and Excellence (third place) in each category.

Winning municipalities were notified by letter earlier this month. They will be recognized and the reports will be displayed at MMA’s Annual Convention, Oct. 4-5 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Winners by population category were:

  • 5,000 and over: Caribou, Supreme; Freeport, Superior; South Portland, Excellence.
  • 2,500 to 4,999: Vassalboro, Supreme; Mapleton, Castle Hill & Chapman, Superior; Rockport, Excellence.
  • 1,000 to 2,499: Mount Desert, Supreme; Hope and Newcastle (tie), Superior; Easton and Owls Head (tie), Excellence.
  • 500 to 999: Carrabassett Valley, Supreme; Alna, Superior; Southport, Excellence.

Contact legislators with your opposition to the opening of Sheepscot dam to alewives and lampreys

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Gary Miller, Longtime Palermo visitor

I’ve been a long time visitor to Palermo, since the ‘70s. We liked Palermo, the people and Sheepscot pond so much that when I retired, we bought a camp on the shores of this beautiful body of water and have spent half our life here for the past 25 years.

Now, in the search of increased power, profits and campaign funds, the powers that be are ganging up on the town of Palermo, Sheepscot Fish & Game Club, the Lake Association, IF&W, who manage the fish nursery and the residents of Palermo and plan to open the lake’s dam to sea lam-prey and alewives. We’ve been down this road before and found nothing but misery; let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past just so those with financial interests can improve their lot at the expense of those who live here.

The stories are available and tell a tale of lamprey becoming “landlocked” and unable to get to the sea. They grow into adult-hood and attack our togue, bass and other sport fish, leaving them weakened and prone to disease. Alwives are not any better, they are toxic to togue, destroying vitamin B-12 and causing early death of the offspring. They also potentially carry PEN, a virus deadly to other fish which would be a disaster for the trout nursery at the foot of our dam and could spread that virus across the state hatchery/nursery system as fish are moved into place. By their sheer numbers, they can over-populate the IF&W nursery, crowding out the trout and requiring routine manual removal at great expense.

LD922, which mandates the opening the dam, without regard to these and other risks, will be brought forward in the next legislative session and all who love the beauty of what we now have need to write their state legislators and demand that nothing be done until the state is allowed to conduct environmental and engineering studies showing the true and complete impacts on our existing fish populations, IF&W operations, boating, swimming and property values. Politicians respond to numbers so we all need to write them and let them know how we all feel. Also, stay informed, watch the Palermo area organizations websites and attend the legislative committee meetings, in Augusta, where the decisions are made. Demand attention and follow up when it isn’t given, a way of life is at stake.