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Environmentalists ask judge to shut down Maine hydroelectric dams


A coalition of Maine environmental groups are asking a federal judge to shut down several hydroelectric dams along the Kennebec River to restore habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon.

In a request for a preliminary injunction filed in U.S. District Court, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers, and Natural Resources Council of Maine, seek to cease operations at four dams during the salmon’s spawning and migration seasons, which run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31 and from April 1 to June 30.

The groups argue that Brookfield Renewable Partners’ dam operations block the natural migration patterns of the critically endangered fish, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. They argue that dams violated federal law because they don’t have active permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service to “take” Atlantic salmon.

“This noncompliance is not a technical failing – Atlantic salmon are on the brink of extinction,” lawyers for the groups wrote in the complaint. “The Kennebec River plays a pivotal role in ever achieving survival and recovery of the species.”

In September, the environmental groups filed a lawsuit against Brookfield, alleging it is violating the Endangered Species Act by killing Atlantic salmon trying to pass through the dams.

Brookfield has proposed a fish passage infrastructure that it claims will provide a 96% passage rate for the migrating salmon, but environmental groups have rejected those claims.

Environmental groups say the Atlantic salmon – which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act – is threatened by dam operations that prevent the fish from migrating safely from the ocean to spawning and rearing areas in the upper Kennebec River watershed.

Gov. Janet Mills’ administration has come under scrutiny for denying an environmental permit to the operators of a Kennebec River dam that powers a local saw mill, saying the move will cost thousands of jobs. In its decision to deny the permit, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection cited concerns over the impact on Atlantic salmon along the river.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has licensing authority over hydroelectric dams, is reviewing a license request for operators of the dam.

Approval of the FERC license renewal hinges on issuance of a state water quality certification, which was recently denied by the DEP amid concerns over the impact on Atlantic salmon.

Last month, Brookfield filed a lawsuit against Maine environmental regulators in state Superior Court, alleging that the Maine DEP is “exceeding its authority under state law in an effort to compel Brookfield to remove its dams.”

Republicans lawmakers have criticized the refusal to recertify the century-old hydroelectric dam, saying it will result in the closure of SAPPI Fine Papers’ flagship mill in Skowhegan, which employs 735 workers.

Mills has fired back at those claims, writing in an “open letter to Sappi employees” published by local newspapers that the state has no intention of removing the dam or closing the sawmill.

This article was originally posted on Environmentalists ask judge to shut down Maine hydroelectric dams

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