Vassalboro planners approve fishway construction

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members have unanimously approved construction of a fishway at the China Lake Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro.

At the March 2 planning board meeting, Matt Streeter, Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI) Project Manager for Maine Rivers, explained what will be done at the dam as part of the plan to allow alewives to migrate from the Atlantic Ocean into China Lake, via the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers and Outlet Stream.

ARI has been removing dams or installing fishways on Outlet Stream for several years, with financial support from the towns of Vassalboro and China. A main assumption is that when alewives leave China Lake in the fall to return to the ocean, they will take with them unwanted phosphorus from the lake water.

Also, Streeter promised, during spring and fall alewife migrations people living near the stream will see “eagles, great blue herons, all kinds of new wildlife” eager to feed on the small fish.

The only remaining obstacle is the Morneau dam between East and North Vassalboro, Streeter said. He is in negotiations with the dam owners.

Maine Rivers Executive Director Landis Hudson said in an email that the Outlet Dam fishway was designed by the engineering firm of Vanasse Hangen Bruslin (VHB), based on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service staff’s concept. Streeter showed planning board members detailed plans.

The concrete fishway will be along the east side of the stream. A small new gate on the west end of the dam will “cushion the path downstream for the alewives” in the fall, Streeter said.

The plan includes protection of an area where the state Historic Preservation Commission is concerned about buried Native artifacts, erosion and sedimentation control measures and revegetation over two years with native plants and shrubs.

ARI has its permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is involved because a very small portion of the work will be below the high-water line. Streeter said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection does not require a Natural Resources Protection Act permit.

The plan does not include a viewing area where people can watch alewives, nor a harvesting area, Streeter said. Town officials preferred encouraging people to watch the fish in North Vassalboro. Harvesting is best done as far downstream as possible, where the fish are most numerous, because some die during the swim upstream.

The town supposedly owns the streamside land that would be affected by the fishway. Streeter said lots were first defined in the 1700s, and titles are clear until the early 1950s, when the American Woolen Company and subsidiaries gave many lots to the town without listing them individually.

Consequently, he found some pieces of land are recorded as belonging to private owners. The town attorney advised not spending money to clear the titles unless someone challenges town ownership, he said.

Planning board members decided not to make land ownership an issue and approved the permit without conditions.

In other business, Codes Officer Paul Mitnik talked briefly about pending issues with abandoned buildings and reminded board members that the April 6 meeting will be the last before he retires, for the third time.

He will continue to serve as alternate codes officer if needed, he said, but “My plan is to just have a lot of fun.”

Board members approved.


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