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Dam meeting scheduled for Aug 28

DANFORTH, Maine — Residents from Maine and Canada will gather at the East Grand High School in Danforth on Wednesday to hear information and discuss a controversial proposal by a Baileyville pulp mill to abandon a dam it owns.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 28 at the school to try and answer the question of who should maintain the dam. 

They also will focus on whether the dam could be operated differently, whether a dam operator could meet the federal license requirements at a lower cost or whether the dam could be decommissioned without causing an undue adverse impact on the people who live and work in its vicinity.

Representatives from Woodland Pulp, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine departments of Environmental Protection and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are expected to attend the meeting to participate in the panel discussion. The public will have the opportunity to comment after the discussion.

The discussion centers around a decision that could affectnot only the future of that lake and the surrounding waterways, but also the future of the entire region.

In late 2016, Woodland Pulp asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to surrender its license to operate the Forest City hydroelectric dam on East Grand Lake.

The company said the cost of maintaining and operating the dam outweighed the benefit of using the electricity it generated.

But the residents, tourists, camp and business owners in the East Grand Lake area say the move would destroy the economy of the area, and that the dam is crucial to maintaining the water levels.

East Grand Lake is a massive waterbody on the international border between Maine and New Brunswick.

Woodland Pulp officials have said meeting the federal agency’s requirements for operating the dam would cost the company $6 million more than it would make from any power generation during the 30-year life of the dam license, which was renewed in 2015.

More than 100 people attended a rally to save the dam at First Settlers Lodge in Weston earlier this month.

Wayne Smith, who operates the lodge with his wife, Denise, said in a recent interview that allowing Woodland Pulp to surrender its license would be devastating to the local economy.

“I believe it would be devastating for the camp owners, businesses and those who rely on the lake to make their living,” he said. “So essentially, the entire economic area of this region. So much income that is earned by these gas stations, lodges and guide services comes from the lakes.”

Other residents who attended the Aug. 5 meeting agreed. They also expressed concern for the loss of the wealth of natural resources and recreation that the surrounding waterways provide.

In June 2018, the International Joint Commission St. Croix River Watershed Board met in Danforth. Pamela J. Lombard, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Maine Water Science Center in Augusta, conducted a study to estimate the unregulated monthly, annual and peak streamflows on the affected waterways. She told the crowd that the report showed “average monthly lake levels would likely be from 1.8 feet to 5.4 feet lower with the gates of the Forest City dam opened than they have been historically.”

That angered several residents in the crowd, who said that when water levels in East Grand Lake sank in 1969, the lake turned into a muddy waterbody that few could access.

There are more than 2,000 seasonal camps and cottages around the East Grand Lake’s edge.

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