Vassalboro: Residents hear update on ARI from speakers

Left, Ladd Dam, and right, Box Mill. Contributed photos

by Mary Grow

About 30 people gathered in the East Vassalboro Grange Hall for a Nov. 29 update on the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI), aimed at restoring alewife runs from the ocean into China Lake. Speakers focused on two obstacles, the Ladd and Box Mill dams.

Presenters were Landis Hudson and Matt Streeter of Maine Rivers, Nate Gray of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and Peter Abello and Ben Naumann of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Other groups involved in or assisting with ARI include the China Lake Association, China Region Lakes Alliance, the towns of China and Vassalboro, the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, Maine Rivers, the Nature Conservancy and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Outlet Stream, which runs from China Lake into the Sebasticook River, had six dams that obstructed fish passage. The Masse dam in East Vassalboro has been removed; the Lombard dam between East and North Vassalboro is also to be taken out. The Outlet dam in East Vassalboro will have a fishway. Plans for the Morneau dam between East Vassalboro and Lombard dam are incomplete.

Plans discussed Nov. 29 include a fishway at the Ladd dam, along the west bank, with the existing impoundment to be maintained and Ray Breton’s recreational area on the east bank to be undisturbed.

Naumann said an archaeological survey is pending. Engineering plans are due this winter. If funds are available, construction of the fishway could be a 2018 project. An informational sheet distributed at the meeting said a Denil fish ladder is planned; it would allow an annual alewife harvest to benefit the town, like the harvest at Webber Pond.

The partly-collapsed Box Mill dam is a “complex site, highly modified over the years,” Gray said. Naumann agreed, saying the dam is nicknamed “Swiss cheese” because it has so many holes.

Numerous engineers have come up with more than a dozen conceptual designs over the last three years, Naumann said. The experts are moving toward consensus on a plan; if they agree, construction is possible in 2018 or 2019.

Gray said removing the dam is not an option. Outlet Stream was diverted when it was installed, and without the dam significant upstream erosion would threaten the Oak Grove Road bridge.

Once a plan has been made, Naumann said residents will be invited to another meeting for an updated progress report.

Abello, NRCS district consultant based in Augusta, explained that the agency’s main role in the project is to assist with funding. The landowner – Ray Breton for both the Ladd and Box Mill dams – applies; Abello helps develop plans that meet the landowner’s goals and preserve natural resources.

The funding process is highly competitive, Abello warned.

Before the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers were dammed in the 1800s, Gray said, alewives and other fish used to travel well inland to spawn in lakes and ponds. The Edwards dam on the Kennebec was removed in 1999 and the Fort Halifax dam on the Sebasticook in 2008; by the spring of 2009, alewives were sighted below Box Mill dam.

The small fish are valuable for lobster bait. They might also play a role in removing the algae that are over-abundant in China Lake and other area lakes; scientific studies are not unanimous, but Webber Pond Association President Frank Richards gives alewives some of the credit for improved water quality.

China Lake has been stocked by trucking in alewives since 2012, Gray said.

In addition to alewives, a Denil fish ladder can accommodate other small fish, including Atlantic salmon and perhaps small striped bass, Gray told an audience member. Unwelcome fish like pike, white catfish and carp, which are present in the lower Kennebec, will probably be deterred by shallow water in Outlet Stream between North Vassalboro and the Sebasticook, he said.

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