To the Editor:
I am writing in response to Dwayne Shaw’s common-sense op-ed, “The Future of the Union River,” which appeared in the March 1 edition of The Ellsworth American.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued public notice of a new license application for the Union River dams. This process has an April 9 deadline for public comment on the details of this license. More than 750 signatures were gathered during the last two years. Petitioners want safe up-and-down fish passage at both dams, want Graham Lake managed as a healthy lake and want the state of Maine to use its power to issue an effective 401 water quality certificate.
The new license proposed by Brookfield Energy Systems will not stop the notorious fish and eel kills that have been well documented each spring and fall as these sea run make their way back to the oceans.
The Union River Dam has been killing fish since 1909. These are the diadromous fish that require safe passage from the ocean to the rivers where they lay their eggs and then go back to the ocean. The Union River is a vital link in the ecology and economy of our local lobster fisheries. The license proposed by owners, Brookfield and Black Bear, do not offer anything to save the fish returning to spawn, and it does nothing to manage water levels at Graham Lake.
This is a watershed moment where the future of the Union River can be shaped to enhance both our economy and ecology. The ecological illiteracy of the past can be reversed.
If we allow this relicensing without allowing safe and effective fish passage at both dams, then we are truly letting down future generations of hardworking Mainers. If we do not remove the fish blockages, then we will be guilty of crimes against nature because we know in our Maine hearts that the Union River deserves to flow freely and Graham Lake needs the 401 water quality certificate.
I am also writing to DEP Commissioner Paul Mercer and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Nicolas Palso. I’m pleading with them for a common sense 401 water quality certificate and for them to make the Union River great again by allowing safe and effective fish passage.
Like every taxpayer along the coast of Maine, my business will be positively affected if we all make the right decision for the health of the Union River. We are all stakeholders in the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license application for the Union River Dams. Allowing these dams to stop the natural flow of the sea run fisheries for another 40 years would be criminal.
I ask those who live on the Union River to remember that they live on a river. The Union River, if allowed to flow freely, could fuel an economic revival of Blue Hill and the surrounding bays — this, in concert with the 401 water quality certification, could be the standard for the future.
It is time to stop thinking about seasonal boats and docks and start being concerned about the ecology of this once-mighty river.
According to the Downeast Salmon Federation, there is the potential for 9 billion alewives to spawn out of a healthy Union River, along with many salmon and eels. These are the forage fish that feed humans, other fish and birds, and they are sometimes used as bait in the 350 million lobster industry.
All of the “mudflats” that are exposed during dry periods and drawdowns are really wetland riverine habitats. They could be the breeding grounds for shrub-loving neotropical migrant birds, like warblers, which nest in Maine during the summer. In a perfect world, we would again see birds breeding alongside a river that has a thriving alewife run.
Everyone, including Black Bear, Brookfield and the city of Ellsworth, must publicly recognize that the dams are destroying the biodiversity and economy of the Union River, Blue Hill Bay and surrounding waters. For what? It is time for this dam to be removed as a barrier to fish. It is time society takes responsibility. Please. The stakeholders include your children’s children.
Michael J. Good