Remove the dam

To the Editor:

Every picture tells a story. This is especially true about the article “Electric Street Lighting” in a historical records column by the Bar Harbor Historical Society in the Islander’s Extra section earlier this year.

The picture of the Bar Harbor and Union River Dam is proof of the severe ecological damage caused by the “Great Wall of Ellsworth” tidewater dam. The pictures are the exact reason why this dam must be removed now.

It was placed in the most ecologically sensitive location on the river, where freshwater meets seawater. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the Ellsworth Dam expires Dec. 31, 2017.

Some 100 years ago, the Union River Dam, operated by the Bar Harbor division of the “Bar Harbor and Union River Power Company,” was built without any consideration for the ecological benefits the Union River provided for all the surrounding ocean water, the fishermen or lobstermen of the region. This Great Wall of Ellsworth has destroyed jobs on the ocean for 100 years. The longer this destruction continues, the more extensive the ecological damage.

Deborah Dyer’s article states that the Superintendent L.A. Austin was “working overtime to install the first electrical system for Mount Desert Island Ellsworth and Bangor” generated from a “tidewater” dam on the Union River Watershed. He should have been working overtime trying to figure out how to allow fish passage around this dam.

A century ago, our society was dictated by the “European Concept of Exploitation.” They did not care about anything or anybody associated with or dependent upon the river system – only money. The Penobscot people were some of the few to speak out against these concepts. It is this concept that has been eroding ecological systems in North America for 250 years, from the first European settlers to today’s election of Donald Trump.

The Union River Dam represents a total disregard for the river system and its fisheries connected to the Gulf of Maine. For 100 years, this dam has been destroying more jobs than it provides.

A tidewater dam destroys the connectivity of the river and ocean, eliminating the amazing biodiversity that would be produced by a free flow. It is at this very location of the Union River Dam that alewives and American eels come in contact with an electrical generation system that is 100 years old. It destroys countless fish and eels – chopped-up and killed by the turbines located near the base of the dam. The mangled bodies of fish and eels are spit out on the other side, lying on rocks or eaten by herring gulls and bald eagles.

The 30,000 megawatts of energy currently being produced by the dam can be produced easily in upper parts of the watershed with the correct fish ladders that allow for a thriving fishery and the generation of electricity.

The Union River dam blocks an estimated 9 billion juvenile alewives and other searun fish each year” from entering into Blue Hill Bay, according to estimates by Dwayne Shaw of the Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF). Removing this dam would revitalize our local fisheries, provide bait for lobster fisherman and generate opportunities for bird watching, kayaking and fishing.

Anadromous fish like Atlantic salmon and sea bass could return, along with all the life currently being chocked by the behemoth Union River Dam.

Prior to 1908, the river powered Ellsworth’s development and growth. Ellsworth was a shipbuilding and timber town long before the Union River Dam was built. There were numerous dams along the Union River in those days, but they never fully blocked the salmon, alewives or American shad. Why should they?

American eels are still able to slither up the dam and into the Union River where they live for 20-plus years before returning to the Sargasso Sea off Florida to lay their eggs. Coming back through the turbines is fatal and destroys the vital link between the Sargasso Sea and the Union River.

For 100 years, no migratory fish made it past the dam without the help of a truck, and only about 153,000 alewives are actually moved around the dam.

The Union River system could be producing exponential numbers of fish, yet tax payers allow this trickle of fish for a disgustingly low amount of electricity. Logic must rule the day with regards to the relicensing process.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is seeking input and has arranged a few meetings seeking public comment as part of its review of Brookfield’s application to renew its operating licenses for the two dams for a period of 30 years. The current licenses expire Dec. 31, 2017.

Thirty more years of this dam would be devastating. Healthy fisheries need healthy habitat. Make no political compromises. Restored populations of smelt, tomcod, alewives, shad and salmon could literally put food on our tables. If our children’s children are to eat locally-caught fish and develop industry around a healthy fishery, then the Union River Dam must be removed now.

Michael J. Good

Bar Harbor

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