July 13, 2020

Fishway proposed to replace dam Option would help Orrington get federal funds

ORRINGTON – Build it, and they will come.

Alewives and Atlantic salmon are two types of fish that would make the trip up the Sedgeunkedunk Stream if the Mill Dam in Brewer and Meadow Dam in Orrington were changed to allow upstream travel, local biologists are saying.

“If salmon took a right at the Sedgeunkedunk, they would find suitable habitat,” Ken Beland, fisheries biologist from Aquatic Science Association Inc. of Brewer, said on Wednesday during a presentation about the deteriorating Meadow Dam.

Replacing Meadow Dam would run Orrington approximately $189,000, but by adding a fish passage, the community could qualify for a significant amount of federal funding, biologist Steve Shepard of Aquatic Science told residents.

“It presents a unique opportunity to restore fish to the area,” he said.

“The federal government is actually looking to restore habitats,” Beland added later.

Three dams along Sedgeunkedunk Stream – Mill Dam, Meadow Dam and Brewer Lake Dam – once were used to provide water to Brewer’s Eastern Fine Paper Co. mill, which closed in 2004.

Brewer officials are working to remove the abandoned lower dam, known as Mill Dam, which would open up several miles of the stream to different types of fish, some which are endangered.

Removing Mill Dam is part of the city’s shoreland stabilization project along the Penobscot River, Frank Higgins, Brewer City engineer, said on Wednesday.

“We have committed to removing it,” he said. “In early spring 2007, we’re going to open the gate to the dam and drain it. At that point, it will no longer operate as a dam. “Right now, there is a big valve in the middle of that structure that fish can’t get through,” Higgins said.

In Orrington, Brewer Lake Dam is in good condition after renovations a decade ago, but Meadow Dam, or Fields Pond Dam, needs repairs or replacing.

“This dam is in a state of disrepair and could fail,” Shepard said, noting that water leaks from underneath the concrete structure. “The dam is not actually anchored to the ledge.”

Aquatic Science is using a $43,500 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant to survey the habitat and water levels.

The biologists are suggesting that the town install a new rock ramp fishway dam, which looks like natural rapids created by a pile of brook rocks but allows fish to pass. The brook rocks, some as large as four feet, are placed randomly over a hidden solid dam wall that regulates water flow.

“It’s very natural-like,” Shepard said. “And there is no maintenance.”

The biologist also gave three other alternatives to fixing the dam’s issues, including removing it entirely, constructing a new dam similar to the one now in place and constructing a new dam with a fishway.

“Any option without a fish pass – the town pays,” Beland stressed.

“The alternatives with fish passages open up a lot of resources,” Shepard said. “It could possibly cost more, but would leverage a lot more resources and could cost [residents] considerably less.”

In addition to the Fish and Wildlife grant, funds from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, an agency under the U.S. Department of Commerce, also were used to pay for an engineering study.

“What we decided was to bring everybody on board early and [get them] in place to get everybody’s expertise,” Town Manager Carl Young said, noting that the early planning “has opened the door to significant funding.”

Residents who were at the Orrington meeting were mostly concerned about water levels and how they would affect fishing, boating, native plants and wildlife.

The goals of the town are to maintain water levels, habitat and property values around the Sedgeunkedunk meadow and Fields Pond, Young said. Several other meetings are planned.

“This is really a good project,” Higgins said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

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