Vassalboro: Dam groups hold public hearing on project

by Mary Grow

The groups applying for a state permit to remove the Masse dam in East Vassalboro held a Nov. 7 public hearing to explain the project and how area residents can get involved.

The presentation by Landis Hudson, of Maine Rivers, drew about two dozen people from Vassalboro and China to participate in a wide-ranging discussion. Most of the East Vassalboro residents who spoke remained unconvinced of the value of the project. Maine Rivers, the China Region Lakes Alliance and others have created ARI, the Alewife Restoration Initiative. ARI’s goal is to clear China Lake’s Outlet Stream of obstacles to fish passage so that migratory alewives can get from the Atlantic Ocean via the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers into the lake.

One step is the proposed removal of the dam in East Vassalboro. The project requires a Natural Resources Protection Act permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Hudson said the meeting was a state requirement as an early step in the application to remove the dam.

Hudson’s presentation focused on expected environmental impacts, the topic most questioned during the discussion. Proponents foresee a more natural ecosystem that will provide better habitat for native species of fish, animals, birds, insects and plants, and the probable improvement of water quality in China Lake through the alewife introduction.

Dams and other man-made barriers fragment formerly interconnected habitats and tend to benefit non-native and warm-water species, Hudson said. Reconnecting streams is Maine Rivers’ main focus; other ARI members are more concerned with alewife migration.

In August and September the Masse dam was opened to lower the water level in the upstream impoundment and part of the former mill was taken down. Hudson said complete removal of the dam would not change the upstream water level much more.

According to earlier discussions, the mill was in danger of collapse, endangering East Vassalboro Water Company pipes under the stream as well as people trespassing on mill property.

Hudson said mill owner Don Robbins made a presentation on the historic mill to the Vassalboro Historical Society.

Jan Clowes of the society said the group did not understand the urgency of his situation and hoped the society would not “drop the ball” should a similar problem arise in the future.

A related concern was that lower water above the water company’s pipes would expose them to freezing. The pipes have been relocated, Hudson said.

Charlie Hartman, Clowes and other East Vassalboro residents argued Nov. 7 that they have lost a pond that was a significant recreational and community center, that trees and perhaps buildings are endangered by the changed shoreline configuration and that there is not enough water in the stream for all the good things predicted.

Project Manager Matt Streeter said the application process includes a hydrogeologist’s study of the impact of lower water on buildings and retaining walls. Conclusions from the study will be submitted to DEP.

Water flow from China Lake down Outlet Stream is regulated by a Board of Environmental Protection order specifying maximum and minimum flows at different seasons. The Outlet Dam is managed to meet the state requirements.

Discussion also covered the validity of the claim that alewives will improve lake water quality, a statement everyone agreed is so far unproven. Dam removal proponents think improvement is likely; opponents are skeptical.

Resident Bill Pullen queried the cost of the project, getting no answer. Streeter said arrangements with contractors are not part of the public record. He assured the audience that so far the cost is within $1,000 of the original budget.

In May, Vassalboro selectmen approved giving the China Region Lakes Alliance $150,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds to support ARI’s work, $65,000 in the spring and $85,000 after the November tax payment.


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