Salmon group to remove Branch Pond Mill in China, install fish passageway
The mill is collapsing and the dam's water gates are broken, officials say, and they hope to add a fish passageway to help restore river herring and salmon.
By Madeline St. Amour Staff Writer
CHINA — A proposed agreement to take down a historic mill on the boundary dividing China and Palermo and install a fish passageway in its adjoining dam is expected to be signed later this week, officials say.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation is negotiating with Christine and Stephen Coombs, the owners of the 200-year-old Dinsmore Dam, also known as the Branch Pond Mill, on the agreement to buy the property, in the hope that it can restore passage to river herring and salmon.
Completion of the entire project will take several years, said Andrew Goode, vice president of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. The federation is using existing money from its Maine Headwaters Project to begin work at Branch Pond Mill, but it is not saying yet how much.
The Maine Headwaters Project aims to reconnect streams and open up passages for fish, which could return Atlantic salmon to Maine waters. The federation is trying to raise about $2 million in public and private money to cover its entire project on the Sheepscot watershed.
Goode spoke to a packed room of residents about the project Tuesday evening at the Branch Mills Grange Hall. Goode explained the project and its timeline and said the organization would take the residents’ comments into account.
“We don’t want to do something … that is completely against the community’s interest,” he said.
Some residents asked questions, and at the end of Goode’s presentation, the audience clapped.
“Everyone seems very supportive,” Goode said after the meeting. Because residents know the structures are deteriorating, the federation hasn’t faced any opposition to its plans, he said.
China Town Manager Dan L’Heureux also said in an email that he has noted a lack of response to the plan.
The Branch Pond Mill, which is off Branch Mills Road in South China, has been considered a safety hazard by the state and the town for years.
The Coombses bought the deteriorating mill and dam in 2003 and made some upgrades, but the state dam inspector found that the dam was a significant potential hazard. The dam leaks, it has cracks and broken sluice gates, and the mill is partially collapsed.
A standoff between the state Department of Environmental Protection over water level orders ended in a consent agreement with the department and the Maine Emergency Management Agency this past spring that said the Coombses could adjust the water level for up to seven months to make repairs.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation started working on an agreement with the Coombses in August, according to Goode.
“We have a lot of trepidation about getting involved in this,” he said. Goode said the federation is taking on this big project because of its other work in the west branch of the Sheepscot River, which is part of its Maine Headwaters Project.
The emergency management agency still is waiting for the Coombses to fix the sluice gates, which are sliding gates that control the flow of water through the dam, Goode said. They need a letter from the state dam inspector saying the gates are operable to start the project.
“There’s a lot of motivation on (Stephen Coombs’) side to make this things work,” Goode said.
The Coombses did not attend the meeting Tuesday evening and did not respond immediately Wednesday to multiple requests for comment.
Goode said they plan to have a contractor take the mill down and reassemble the working pieces at another site so the historic artifacts aren’t lost. This should start in January, but the contract has a contingency to allow the federation to come in and dismantle the mill if the contractor stops working. The goal is to get the mill down by the end of June next year.
In the summer, the federation plans to take out the broken water gates and have an engineering firm run a stability and structural analysis of the dam.
Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239