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Community Commentary: Palermo Commissioners to work together to manage dam

Sheepscot dam

Community Commentary

by Rep. Jeffrey K. Pierce

Re: Legislative hearing scheduled Sheepscot Dam Issue:

I am a life-long fisherman and have spent many afternoons by a lake or pond, fishing for brook trout or togue. Having healthy populations of fish and access to fish for them is very important to me and my family. As the executive director of Alewife Harvesters of Maine, I am committed to restoring all river fish species, not just alewives, to promote healthy and vital fisheries throughout our state. As you said in your article, healthy fisheries are a vibrant part our communities and homes.

My bill, LD 922, An Act Directing the Commissioner of Marine Resources To Investigate the Conditions of Sheepscot Pond Related to a Management Plan for Anadromous Fish Species, prompts “The Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shall cooperate with the commissioner [Department of Marine Resources] in carrying out the provisions of section 6171 for the management of anadromous fish species and habitat.” Thus, the commissioner of IFW and DMR are prompted to work together to manage the Sheepscot Dam. The Sheepscott Dam is currently open ten out of twelve months of the year, so my proposal suggests that the dam should have free fish passage in the two months that the dam is currently closed. This will not negatively impact water levels of the pond or river since the dam is open almost year-round.

This bill also states that the conditions of Sheepscot Pond will be monitored should the dam be opened in the spring. This monitoring will prevent any negative effects on current populations of fish that are landlocked during the springtime. To date there are no cases of alewives carrying VEN so that is not a concern for other fish populations. About four miles downstream from Sheepscot Pond at Coopers Mills Dam there is an active alewife fishery and they have had no problems with alewives effecting water quality or fish populations. I would encourage anyone to speak with residents of nearby Webber Pond. Alewives were introduced there a number of years ago and they currently have very clean water and an active alewife harvest that benefits the local community.

The Aqua, Animal, and Health Technical Committee is a committee comprised of individuals from the Department of Marine Resources, Inland Fish and Wildlife, NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with other science-based organizations. In 2017, they reviewed “the question of increased disease risk associated with opening passage to alewives and river herring” and they recommended “that the opening of the Sheepscot Pond fishway did not constitute a significant added risk over current practices.”

VASSALBORO: Selectmen to bid out new alewives harvest contract

by Mary Grow

At their Jan. 25 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen acted on waste-hauling bids and decided to bid out the new contract for harvesting alewives.

The board had five bids to haul solid waste after April 1, first to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock and later to the new Fiberight facility in Hampden.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee representing Vassalboro and other Maine municipalities that intend to use the Fiberight facility, advised her to plan on at least six months’ use of Crossroads. Each company bidding offered different prices for the two hauls; Sabins did some math, based on the estimated six months, and recommended Vassalboro stay with the current hauler, Bolster’s Rubbish Removal, of Burnham.

Bolster’s charges during the one-year contract will be $200 per trip to Crossroads and $225 per trip to Fiberight. The company is the only bidder willing to remove a full container from Vassalboro’s transfer station on 12 hours’ notice; the other four asked for 24 hours’ notice. Sabins said Transfer Station Manager George Hamar is happy with Bolster’s service.

The town’s three-year contract with Ronald Weeks to harvest alewives at the Webber Pond dam ends this year. On advice from Nate Gray of the Department of Marine Resources, selectmen decided to seek bids for a new five-year contract. They emphasized that they are not dissatisfied with Weeks.

Gray recommended a five-year contract because alewives born in Webber Pond return to the ocean for four years and come back to spawn the fifth year. The harvester thus has an incentive to make sure he or she leaves a generous number of fish for the future.

There are 22 alewife runs in Maine, as dams are removed on rivers like the Kennebec to let the small fish go inland. Gray said Vassalboro did well to create a sustainable harvest so quickly.

Alewives are trapped as they return from the ocean in May and early June and sold to be used as lobster bait. Gray said increased need for bait has raised the price in recent years. It is standard procedure, he said, for the town to get one-third of the sale proceeds and the harvester two-thirds.

Board members discussed costs of counting the fish, ways to provide information the state and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission request annually and perhaps adding a count of fish sold. They asked Sabins to draft a proposed contract for their review, with Gray’s input.

In other business Jan. 25, selectmen renewed the liquor license for Natanis Golf Course on a 2-0 vote, with board member and Natanis owner Robert Browne absent due to illness.

They approved a resident’s request to tap sugar maples in Union Cemetery.

Sabins and board and audience members commended Road Commissioner Eugene Field for checking Vassalboro’s roads during the night whenever the weather forecast is doubtful and for calling out the road crew when they are needed.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus announced a Feb. 11 fishing derby sponsored by the Vassalboro Business Association. More information is on the town website.

The next two Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings are scheduled for Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 (a one-week interval instead of the usual two weeks to avoid meeting during school vacation week) at 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room. The 2018-19 municipal budget will be a major topic at both meetings. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, selectmen hold a budget workshop at 1 p.m. in the town office.

Time change on LD 922 legislative hearing

Sheepscot dam

On Wednesday, February 7, at 10 a.m., (NOTE: time change) the Maine State Legislature will hold a hearing regarding LD 922. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Pierce, (Dresden) proposes giving control of the dam on Sheepscot Pond to the Dept. Of Marine Resources after decades of successful management by the Dept. Of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It also mandates opening the dam at Sheepscot Pond to alewives, sea lamprey, and other migratory anadromous fish without regard to the historical problems of such a move. The hearing will be in Room 206 at the Burton M Cross Building, 111 Sewall Street, Augusta. The Sheepscot Lake Association, the Palermo Town Select Board, and a large percentage of Palermo residents oppose this legislation for several reasons. See the cover story of the January 25, 2018, issue of The Town Line.