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Mills Makes New Effort To Get FERC To Drop Jurisdiction Over Forest City Dam

BDN File
Mills sent a letter last week to FERC presenting a rationale for the agency to drop jurisdiction over the Forest City Dam

Gov. Janet Mills is making a new push to prevent a potential drawdown of East Grand Lake that could leave thousands of camps and residences high and dry.

Mills sent a letter last week to the chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) presenting a rationale for the agency to drop jurisdiction over what is called the Forest City Dam. Part of a 100-year-old hydropower system, the dam sits partly in the United States and partly in Canada, and it keeps the 16,000-acre international lake at its current levels.

The dam's owner, Woodland Pulp and Paper, wants to cede it to someone else or abandon it, saying FERC's licensing requirements are too expensive. FERC has so far balked.

Now Mills says new water flow models commissioned by the state show that if a third party takes over, FERC can legally give up its jurisdiction.

Timothy Peabody is Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

"A big effort on Governor Mills part to get behind it, I will tell you that,” Peabody says. “I mean it's just a very important resource to the state of Maine."

The consultant's lengthy report concludes that under new ownership, the dam can be operated in a way that minimizes its contributions to the downstream mill's electricity production, thus taking it out of FERC's purview.

David Townsend, president of the Chiputneticook Lakes International Conservancy, says the dam would still be operated to protect habitat and property on the lake, which is a prized resource among international anglers.

"It's a heck of a trick of how in the world you're going to manipulate the dam for public policy purposes, but still ensure that, essentially, it's going to generate an insignificant amount of power downstream," he says. Townsend's nonprofit group has shown interest in playing a role in the dam's ultimate ownership and operations - although the expenses of doing so have yet to be tabulated. But first, he says, potential stakeholders will want to see whether FERC is even interested in Mills' proposal.