Federal regulators question Maine pulp company’s dam plan

6 years ago

AUGUSTA, Maine — Federal regulators last month challenged a Maine pulp company’s plan to get out of federal requirements by having the state take over one of its dams.

The dam straddles the U.S.-Canada border, and its future has attracted a flurry of attention from the Canadian government, environmental groups and homeowners on East Grand Lake who are concerned that a potential release of the dam could lower property values and harm the environment and local economy.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage traveled to D.C. to argue that federal regulations for such dams stifle business, and recently signed a law to have the state potentially own the U.S. side of the dam.

The Forest City dam on East Grand Lake. The dam’s owner Woodland Pulp LLC filed papers to surrender its license to operate the dam and decommission the project. The decommissioning of the project could possibly result in the permanent drop in water level of East Grand Lake.
(Gabor Degre)

The dam’s owner, Woodland Pulp LLC, says the 30-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license it received in 2015 is far too costly and unnecessary for a dam that doesn’t produce power itself, but contributes to some power generation. The company argued those requirements shouldn’t apply if Maine owns the dam.

But federal regulators on Dec. 21 said the dam would need licensing even if Maine owns it. Regulators said it’s unlawful to use a dam to help generate power with a license, and worried about the precedent that could be set.

Woodland Pulp spokesman Scott Beal said the company is disappointed and considering its options.

Maine’s new law says the state would take over the dam as long the state doesn’t need a federal license, along with other conditions. Woodland Pulp also agreed to cover the dam’s operating and maintenance costs for at least 15 years.

The Schoodic Riverkeepers, the Province of New Brunswick, the U.S. Department of Interior and several local property owners argued to FERC that Woodland Pulp would still be in charge of the dam and use it to help develop electric power. They also expressed concern that Woodland Pulp’s plan could limit public input and endanger environmental and cultural resources.

In its order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it could reconsider whether licensing is needed if Woodland Pulp and Maine show they would greatly reduce the dam’s contribution to energy generation.