Maine Republicans criticize Mills over denial of dam permit

Maine Republicans are criticizing the Mills administration’s decision to deny an environmental permit to the operators of a Kennebec River dam that powers a local sawmill, saying the move will cost thousands of jobs.

In a letter to Gov. Janet Mills, the Legislature’s GOP minority wrote that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s refusal to recertify the century-old hydroelectric dam will result in the closure of Sappi Fine Papers’ flagship mill in Skowhegan, which employs 735 employees and provides work indirectly for more than 5,000 others.

“For sake of thousands of Maine families who rely on the dam and associated facilities for their support and livelihood, we ask that you take every step possible to reverse this damaging and arbitrary denial and direct your administration to do all that it can to ensure the continued and permit operation of the Shamet dam,” GOP lawmakers wrote.

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 Maine Department of Environmental Protection amid concerns over the impact on Atlantic salmon.

But the Republican leaders suggested that the Shawmut Dam operators were being held to an “unachievable” environmental standard that is based on “incomplete data.”

“This standard of 99% fish passage has never been required of any dam in Maine or elsewhere in the U.S. because it is, in fact both unachievable and not measurable,” they wrote.

They wrote that the move would “have a crippling effect” on the state’s ability to attract “new and expanded investment in Maine’s economy by private enterprise.”

“No potential investor that sees a major industrial operation spend huge sums of money on a Maine facility, only to have it stripped away by the state, would ever again look to Maine as a reasonable place to invest,” lawmakers wrote.

But 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.

“Closure of this mill, and the resulting ripple effect across the industry, including job losses, would not be acceptable to me – and I will not allow it to happen,” Mills wrote. “My administration will protect the mill and its important contributions to Maine’s economy, and we will work to restore Atlantic salmon passage by pursuing innovative solutions.”

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

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine, have called for the removal of four dams on the Kennebec River between Waterville and Skowhegan.

“Federal officials are threatening to wipe out the progress Maine has made restoring endangered Atlantic salmon,” said Sean Mahoney, CLF’s executive vice president. “The state has found innovative solutions that both protect critical species and allow people to benefit from the river. FERC needs to start from scratch and admit that the only path forward is to remove these dams.”

This article was originally posted on Maine Republicans criticize Mills over denial of dam permit

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