DMR announces new program aimed at salmon recovery

ELLSWORTH — The Department of Marine Resources has adopted a new program to provide funding for Atlantic salmon recovery work and reduce regulatory hurdles for road and bridge construction projects.

The Atlantic Salmon Restoration and Conservation Program gives public and private parties working on road and bridge construction projects the flexibility to pay a fee in lieu of undertaking mitigation efforts on the ground required by federal law to offset unavoidable environmental impacts of the construction activity.

In 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the In-Lieu Fee (ILF) Program to provide compensation for unavoidable damage to wetlands or aquatic resources after all mitigation efforts required by law have been taken.

Corps permits are necessary for projects that include construction or dredging in the nation’s navigable waters. The permits require that adverse impacts to the aquatic environment must be mitigated by restoring, enhancing, creating or preserving aquatic functions.

“This program allows us to pool resources from ILF payments and use them for projects that have the greatest potential to support recovery of Atlantic salmon,” Sean Ledwin, director of DMR’s Sea-Run Fisheries Division, said in a written statement. “The in-lieu-fee program requires that funds paid are used to support other restoration work that results in, at minimum, no net loss of habitat or habitat function. We plan to use the funds to not simply maintain habitat but to restore or enhance salmon habitat in Maine.”

Compensation for salmon restoration projects will take the form of monetary payments administered by DMR and used for other projects determined to have a high probability of improving habitat and recovery for Atlantic salmon.

The program was made possible by an agreement among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps of Engineers and the state of Maine that establishes eligibility standards for construction projects in areas of the state that have historic Atlantic salmon populations.

Projects eligible for the ILF program include the removal, replacement, installation and maintenance of stream crossings structures such as dams, bridges and road culverts.

Fees are based on the amount of potential Atlantic salmon habitat disturbed by a project and the costs to restore salmon habitat. The more habitat affected, the higher the fee.

Fees vary in different parts of the state. In the Downeast coastal region, the cost would be $6,347 for each “habitat unit” affected. A habitat unit is equivalent to 100 square meters or 1,076 square feet. The fee would be apportioned if the affected area were smaller than a habitat unit.

The high price in the Downeast area, essentially between the Union River and Cobscook Bay, reflects the importance of the region to the restoration of the endangered Atlantic salmon.

In the Penobscot Bay region, between the Kennebec River and the Union River, the price per critical habitat unit is $3,408. To the west, in the Merrymeeting Bay region, the price is $4,856 per habitat unit.

“The impacts of each project are generally small while costs for high quality salmon restoration projects can be expensive, so pooling resources to focus on high priority projects makes a lot of sense,” Ledwin said.

Another benefit of the fee program, according to DMR, is that it will allow for more timely construction of eligible road-stream crossing projects in Maine watersheds where Atlantic salmon are found.

“This will streamline the individual permitting processes for eligible construction projects, saving time and money,” Ledwin said.

The ILF payments received by DMR will be made available as grants awarded to projects that restore, establish, enhance or preserve Atlantic salmon habitat in the state.

Once it has accumulated sufficient funds, DMR will solicit grant proposals that will be evaluated by a review committee.

The committee will include representatives from state and federal resource protection agencies. Mitigation projects will be selected based on an analysis of how they compensate for the impacts of the projects paying into the program and their capacity to “provide significant and broad ecological benefits.”

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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