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FERC staff are recommending relicensing 4 Kennebec River dams

A still image from The River is our Relative
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 photo, the Brookfield Renewable hydroelectric facility stands at the Milford Dam on the Penobscot River in Milford, Maine.

Staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are recommending the relicensing of four dams along the Kennebec River that have been at the center of a fight over the restoration of endangered salmon and other species.

The agency released its draft environmental impact statement late last month as part of the relicensing application for the dams, operated by Brookfield Renewable. Commission staff recommended relicensing as part of a plan that would include proposals from Brookfield, including turbine shutdowns and construction of new fish lifts, as well as other conditions from staff and federal and state agencies.

But Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), said the proposed measures are inadequate and haven't worked on other rivers, including the Merrimack and Connecticut Rivers.

"This scheme that FERC has come up with has not worked on any other dam, on any other river system, anywhere. And there's no reasonable expectation that it would work here," Bennett said.

NRCM is calling for FERC to look at other measures as part of the relicensing process, including considering dam removals, stronger fish passage standards, and screens over every turbine on all of the dams, in order to protect downstream migrating juvenile fish.

"The Department of Marine Resources agrees with us, they've asked for three-quarter inch screens on all the turbines. So that, at the very least is is step one," Bennett said.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft environmental impact statement during two meetings next month.

A spokesperson for Brookfield Renewable did not return a request for comment.