Dead eels enter fray over Union River Dam license

ELLSWORTH — Eels heading for the sea have slithered to the forefront in the fight over the application by Brookfield White Pine Hydro LLC to relicense the Union River Dam that forms Leonard Lake in Ellsworth.

Brookfield White Pine is the apparent corporate successor to Black Bear Hydro Partners LLC, the longtime operator of the dam.

Last week, according to Downeast Salmon Federation Executive Director Dwayne Shaw, volunteers searching the banks of the Union River below the dam found about a half-dozen dead adult American eels along shore and another on a sandbank in the middle of the river. According to Shaw, the eels, migrating to the sea from the Union River watershed above the dam, showed evidence of blade strikes from the hydroelectric turbines in the dam.

The discovery of the dead eels followed by a few weeks Shaw’s discovery of several dead alewives below the dam. According to a complaint the conservation group filed early last month with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the alewives showed injuries consistent with having passed through the turbines rather than through the outward fish passage the dam operator’s license requires it to provide.

During the summer, Black Bear filed an extensive study of the dam’s environmental impact on the Union River watershed. FERC ordered the study before the company will be allowed to complete its application for a new 30-year license for the dam.

The DMR filed a six-page letter with FERC detailing its objections to the study. Among its concerns, “the downstream passage facilities have never been tested for their overall ability to pass fish safely and effectively.”

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