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Town Officials Applaud Decision To Reboot Kennebec River Salmon Restoration Project

Municipal officials in towns along the Kennebec River are applauding a state decision this week to reboot its planning process for restoring endangered Atlantic salmon to their historic habitat.

The Department of Marine Resources' draft plan included recommendations that two of the river's four dams be decommissioned or removed, and that the others be considered for removal. But at a public hearing and in written comments, riverside communities and employers said a rushed process was ignoring economic considerations.

And after dam owner Brookfield Renewable Partners filed a lawsuit alleging the agency was overstepping its bounds, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said he would halt the process and start a new one to include more stakeholder involvement.

"Our municipal concerns I don't think initially were given a consideration," he said.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand says Brookfield and the Sappi paper company, whose mills depends on the dams for water management, together make up almost a quarter of the municipal tax base. She's hopeful a new process will be able to preserve that value while protecting fish populations.

"I do understand that their primary function is to look out for the marine resources so I don't know that their scope is typically wide enough. And hopefully they change that course and look to involve us in that conversation, which it sounds like they are," she says.

Stakeholders on all sides say they'd like to see a resolution that protects jobs, property values and the fish — and some are looking to a successful dam removal project on the Penobscot River as a model. But time may be short — one Kennebec River dam, called Shawmut, is currently up for federal relicensing.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.