ELLSWORTH — On July 2, 2021, Black Bear Hydro Partners filed a petition appealing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s (MDEP) decision to deny water quality certification for operation of the Ellsworth and Graham Lake dams.
In return, the state filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, which will be heard March 4 in Kennebec County Superior Court.
The appeal and scheduled court hearing prolongs the six-years-plus effort by Black Bear Hydro to relicense the Ellsworth Hydroelectric Project. Black Bear Hydro Partners had initially applied for the license renewal on Dec. 30, 2015.
But while MDEP found Black Bear Hydro’s application complete in April of 2018 it denied the certification in March of 2020. On appeal by Black Bear Hydro, the state Board of Environmental Protection upheld the agency’s decision on June 3, 2021.
It is the state board’s decision that Black Bear Hydro is now appealing.
Water quality certification is a key component for Black Bear’s parent company, Brooksfield Renewable, for the federal relicensing process of the dams. Ellsworth dam forms the Leonard Lake riverine impoundment, and the Graham Lake dam forms the Graham Lake storage reservoir.
Maine DEP had initially denied the certification in March 2020 “because there is a reasonable assurance” that continued operation of the dams “will violate applicable state water quality standards” in both Graham Lake and in the Union River above the Ellsworth dam.
Without the license renewal, the Ellsworth Hydroelectric Project will face decommissioning, according to a Dec. 4, 2020, letter to he Ellsworth American by Tom Uncher, Brookfield Renewable’s vice president of New England operations.
Oral arguments on the state’s motion to dismiss the petition for review are scheduled for March 4 in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Local environmental groups supported the Board of Environmental Protection’s decision, including the Downeast Salmon Federation, which holds that the dam operation is behind reoccurring fish kills, and the Passamaquoddy Tribe.