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Maine environmental groups take legal action to protect last Atlantic salmon, force dams to shut down

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The Shawmut Dam on the Kennebec River in the Shawmut area of ​​Fairfield is seen July 13. Environmental groups are suing to force the dam and three others to suspend operations during the next periods of fish migration. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentinel File

A group of environmental organizations filed court documents Thursday in an attempt to shut down operations at dams in Maine to protect salmon.

Atlantic salmon is classified as endangered by the federal government. They used to swim upstream and spawn in almost every river north of the Hudson River, but only return to Maine. Conservation groups want a judge to stop or reduce operations at four dams on the lower Kennebec River between Waterville and Skowhegan to help the fish.

Brookfield Renewable owns the dams. The company is a subsidiary of a larger Canadian company that owns many state dams.

The groups said in a statement that the dams “create an impenetrable barrier that prevents endangered Atlantic salmon from traveling from the Gulf of Maine to the main spawning habitat of the Sandy River.”

The Atlantic Salmon Federation, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine filed the preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court in Maine.

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing legal fight over the fate of the dams. Brookfield sued Maine state agencies last month with a complaint that the agencies acted inappropriately in drafting fish passage policies.

The legal record of environmental groups “can only delay existing regulatory processes and the implementation of solutions for fish passage,” said Brookfield spokeswoman Miranda Kessel.

The groups want the judge to close or limit operations to three of the four dams to facilitate the safe passage of salmon for two periods. One is from October 15 to December 31, when adult salmon migrate downstream after spawning. The other is from April 1 to June 30, when the young salmon migrate downstream. At a fourth dam, the organization wants the company to open up all options for the salmon to pass safely.

Most of the salmon offered for sale in large grocery stores is farm-raised, but wild salmon of all species is endangered on America’s coasts. In Alaska, native tribes that have relied on fish for centuries say the populations of kings and chum are nearly extinct.

The loss of salmon has not only affected subsistence fishermen, but also commercial activities such as processing facilities.

Meanwhile, concerns about the potential closure of the Shawmut Dam have already caught the attention of local officials and the governor as part of a separate federal process to renew permits for the facility. In August, Governor Janet Mills said she would “not allow” the closure of the Sappi Somerset plant in Skowhegan, in response to concerns raised by Brookfield as part of its federal license renewal process. Brookfield has raised concerns that the state would consider removing the Shawmut Dam to allow passage of fish, which dam officials said could lower water levels to such an extent that the The plant would not be able to properly dispose of the wastewater and would not be able to operate.

But Mills and David Madore, communications director at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, appeared to rule out the possibility, with Madore saying “shutting down the plant would be an unacceptable result.”


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