February 17, 2020

Power to subvert the Constitution

Apparently, the fate of Maine’s hydropower rests now with landless urban ichthyophilians, mostly from away. Do they really think that people in northern Maine would rather be seasonal creel-bearers from salmon-stalking bwanas that have full-time jobs in modern industry? Will the salmon return? My research in primary and secondary sources dating back to the 17th century indicates that:

1. The first dams on Maine salmon streams were built in the 1650s, excepting dams on the Salmon Falls and York Rivers, which were even earlier. The first complaints I find about problems with the anadromous fisheries in the Salmon Falls River are nearly half a century later, and concern not the dams, but the sawdust, which apparently clogged the river. There seem to have been functioning anadromous fisheries on the larger rivers at least until the early 19th century. This was sometimes nearly 100 years, and occasionally closer to 150 years, after they were dammed. In fact, alewives still run in the brook at Plymouth, Mass., 370 years after the first dam was built there.

2. All that is needed to maintain the anadromous fisheries, as far as dams are concerned, is to build fish ladders, and, during the migration season, to raise the flashboards of the dam proper, while lowering the flashboards on the fish ladder. This was done as early as 1741 on one New England river, to my knowledge. Fish were also carted around the dams successfully at that time, to reestablish the alewife population in the principal breeding pond. That fishery, after recovering, was given up several years later when it was concluded that the financial loss from stopping the mills at the migrating season was greater than the value of the fish.

3. Some dams may be so high as to prohibit the ascent by salmon — about 16 feet according to observations made after the fact on the Connecticut River in the 18th century, and supported by measurements taken in Norway in the 19th century. However, although dams had been on the rivers for over a hundred years, the salmon fisheries didn’t disappear until the logging industry had built numerous sawmills, cleared the forests on most of the tributary streams, and dumped the sawdust from those mills into the rivers.

4. We might therefore suspect that the anadromous fisheries were first ruined not by dams, but by the destruction of spawning grounds through siltation from eroding uplands, and through clogging with sawdust, both due to intensive lumbering in the mid-19th century. Oxygen depletion from rotting logs and sawdust must also have played a part in the first disappearance of anadromous fish. The wholesale clearing of land for sheep pasture in the early 19th century also contributed, for regular addition of fresh vegetation (through leaf fall, etc.) is apparently essential to the health of tributary streams, and manure-rich runoff damages them.

5. Nearly all salmon now running in Maine rivers are descendants of hatchery fish raised in the late 19th century, when native salmon disappeared. That those hatchery salmon have never blossomed into a great population is due not to the dams, but to physical and chemical changes in breeding habitat and estuarine environment. I’d suspect lead, mercury and poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in spawning grounds, as well as the acidification of the water itself, commercial trawling offshore, and the destruction of salt-marshes in the first half of the century. That ruined the anadromous fisheries a second time, and I doubt those fisheries will recover until the chemicals have disappeared.

Furthermore, until PCBs and heavy metals are removed from the New England marine ecosystem, top predators such as salmon and striped bass will continue to be teratogenic and carcinogenic, so the only market for them will be among people who wish to make their children hermaphrodites or give them cancer. I’ll wager that group doesn’t include you.

Lastly, are anadromous fisheries camouflaging interests that really stand to profit from the removal of the Edwards dam? No one beyond the Green Imperium was promoting the future of anadromous fish until Electricity Deregulation appeared on the horizon. The value of the electricity generated by Edwards Dam is $2.5 million. That’s the annual power bill for 5,000 families living within a few miles of the dam. Are large power companies promoting this because they don’t want competition from local power distributos who can undersell them in a heavily populated area?

Remember that The New York Times, which works hand-in-glove with Wall Street, suggested that there were many dams that needed to be removed. (They didn’t mention the two dams their parent company owns on the Kennebec.)

Our Constitution prohibits the confiscation of private property simply to please narrow interest groups. Those on either end of the political spectrum who subvert the Constitution to further their own agenda are like children who introduce termites into the family home to ventilate thir own rooms. When the home is ventilated beyond repair, it will collapse on the whole family.

William B. Leavenworth lives in Camden.

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