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Palermo residents win battle over Sheepscot Lake dam opening

Sheepscot dam

by Carolyn Viens
Sheepscot Lake Assocation

The residents of Palermo have won a major battle in the opposition to LD922, the legislative bill mandating the opening of the Sheepscot Dam to alewives, and other migrating fishes which would have a negative impact on the health of the lake. Representative Jeffrey Pierce of the Maine House of Representatives, and sponsor of LD922, has agreed to withdraw the bill which is currently tabled in the Maine House upon request of Governor Paul LePage.

Following a meeting held with the governor, Mr. Pierce, Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), and Commissioner Keliher of the Maine Deparment of Marine Resources (DMR), it was determined that several expensive steps would need to be taken before such legislation should be considered. These steps include the addition of appropriate biosecurity systems deemed necessary to adequately protect the Palermo rearing station, the securing of funding from private sources to assist in installation of a system meeting the DIF&W criteria, and the determination of the appropriate timeframe to reopen the fish passage for sea run alewife once the necessary measures are in place at the Palermo rearing station. These steps would be extremely expensive and time consuming to complete, and as a result the legislation has been pulled and the removal of the fish gate will not be permitted.

This indefinite postponement is a direct result of the citizens of Palermo and the Sheepscot Lake Association showing their concern repeatedly during town meetings, as well as through communication with government representatives. It would not have been successful without the ongoing involvement of Senate President Michael Thibodeau, who continually gave support throughout this process.

Congratulations to all of you who took the time and made the effort for your voices to be heard through testifying, as well as the untold hours spent contacting legislators, writing letters and articles to the newspapers, and networking with people who could help the cause! It is a testament to the fact that our voices, collectively, were heard and that the government representatives listened! A special thank you for the Long Pond constituents who participated in both research, written articles, and testimony at the hearing, as well as everyone who invested their time and shared their voice, as well as those who listened, and cared. Sheepscot will continue to be the beautiful, pristine, and healthy lake shared by so many each year!

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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Palermo residents speak up about Sheepscot fishway

Submitted by Lynda Pound, member of the Sheepscot Lake Association.

Alewives

Although a major snow storm was bearing down on Palermo, over a hundred town residents assembled in Augusta for a hearing on the bill L.D. 922 on February 7, before the Marine Resources Committee, in Augusta. This bill proposed that Marine Resources would take control of the dam on Sheepscot Lake from the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife in order to open the fishway to migratory fishes during the spawning season from April 15 to June 30. The fishes that would come up through the fishway would be alewives (to be used as bait fish for the lobster industry), Sea Lamprey, and American Eels. According the Andy Goode, of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, there would be no Salmon.

Testifying before the Marine Resources Committee were members of the Sheepscot Lake Association, a representative from the Palermo Select Board, many concerned citizens of Palermo, legislators and residents of Long Pond, and other concerned Maine citizens….most all in opposition to this bill.

The Sheepscot Lake Association and Palermo residents wanted legislators to know that they are profoundly against this opening for multiple reasons. These include threatened biosecurity of the fish rearing station from alewives entering the lake during spawning season, damage to the valuable self sustaining wild togue (lake trout) population, parasitic sea lamprey entering the lake during spawning season, and potential negative impact on the tax base of Palermo from fluctuating water levels.

Vehement opposition to this controversial bill was in clear evidence. Proponents of L.D. 922 made it clear that they did not think that there would be any problems with opening the fishway during spawning season. During testimony, it emerged that there have been no recent environmental impact studies done for Sheepscot Lake. Thus, it is not known how damaging this proposed opening would be, to either the lake or the fish rearing station. After hearing the lengthy testimony presented to them, the Marine Resources Committee members adjourned, having set a date for an upcoming workshop to vote on the bill.

On February 14, the committee reconvened to discuss L.D. 922. Much written testimony had been given to each legislator and a lively debate ensued. Proponents of the bill felt that opening the fishway during spawning season would not pose a significant risk to the fish rearing station, nor would it negatively impact the deep water fishery or the recreational use of the lake. Written testimony from the opposing side, the citizens of Palermo, contained specific information about past history with the fishway having been opened during spawning season in the era of the late ‘60s, and ‘70s. A proliferation of sea lamprey, who were unable to get out of the lake after spawning, attacked both salmon and togue. According to a written document from Inland Fish and Wildlife, deep water fish caught during this time were scarred with multiple wounds from sea lamprey. More information from Inland Fish and Wildlife outlined the high cost of equipment that would have to be installed in order to protect the rearing station from potential viruses and pathogens, if the alewives and sea lamprey were allowed to enter the lake. After much deliberation, the committee voted 8 – 4, ought to pass. At this point, the bill will be forwarded to the legislature for more debate and a vote.

It should be noted that the Maine Governor, Paul LePage, has written a letter to the Commissioners of Marine Resources and Inland Fish and Game asking them to keep the fishway as it is now, requesting that other bodies of water could be used for raising and harvesting alewives.

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.