CENTRAL MAINE MORNING SENTINEL
Farmington residents hear history of Atlantic salmon ahead of dam removal vote
A public meeting Wednesday night was one of three leading up to a referendum that will determine whether the town moves ahead with dam removal.
BY RACHEL OHM, STAFF WRITER
26 Sept. 2018
FARMINGTON — Residents on Wednesday night got a brief overview of the history of Atlantic salmon in Maine and how the removal of a local dam could fit into recovery of the endangered species.
Catherine Schmitt, communications director for Maine Sea Grant, and Paul Christman, a marine scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, each gave presentations to a crowd of about 40 people gathered at the Farmington Community Center. The public meeting is one of three scheduled to occur before a November referendum that will ask residents whether they want to remove Walton’s Mill Dam on Temple Stream with funding from the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Walton's Mill Dam. John Burrows/ASF
Both the Carrabassett River and the Sandy River historically have been important habitats for Atlantic salmon, Schmitt said, and the fish were used by both the native Wabanaki people and European settlers.
Fishing salmon along the Kennebec River and elsewhere in Maine was an important commercial and sporting venture until the early 1900’s, when fish populations began to dwindle because of mills and dams, which prevented fish from moving upstream, and logging drives and development, which contributed to water pollution.
Schmitt said restoration efforts on the Kennebec started in the 1930s and ’40s, and the habitat is still there for Atlantic salmon.
The ideal habitat for Atlantic salmon is relatively fast-moving water that’s fairly cold and has a hard, gravel bottom, according to Christman, who talked about the life cycle of salmon and what it will take to restore salmon in the Kennebec River watershed.
Since 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have listed Atlantic salmon as an endangered species. The federal listing requires the establishment of recovery criteria and designation of critical habitat for Atlantic salmon, Christman said.
Temple Stream in Farmington, where Walton’s Mill Dam is located, is part of that critical habitat.
In March 2016, the town was contacted by NOAA, which voiced concern that the dam is harming critical habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon. The letter stated that once a population is designated endangered, it is unlawful for any public or private entity, or any individual, to harm the species.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation is offering to remove the dam and make upgrades to the neighboring Walton’s Mill Pond Park for a total cost of $1.2 million, with no funding to come from the town.
If voters turn the proposal down, the town’s other option for complying with federal law would be to spend an estimated $750,000, probably of taxpayer money, to build a fish passageway and leave the dam in place.
The remaining public meetings are scheduled for Oct. 10 and Oct. 24 and also will be held at 6 p.m. at the Farmington Community Center.
The Oct. 10 meeting will focus on the ecology of dam removal and effects on other fish and wildlife species, while the subject of the Oct. 24 meeting will be other dam removal projects in Maine and what effects the Farmington removal could have on the community, recreation and tourism.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368