Maine paper maker withdraws from Presumpscot River dam removal pact

Citing rising costs for dam removal, Sappi Fine Paper North America has withdrawn from an agreement to remove one dam, install fish lifts at another, and launch a trap-and-truck program to jump-start fish restoration in Maine’s Presumpscot River watershed.

In the 2007 preliminary agreement, Sappi had agreed by 2011 to remove Cumberland Mills Dam, a non-power water control structure, the farthest dam downstream on the Presumpscot near Westbrook. (HNN 7/16/07) It also agreed to install fish lifts at 1.35-MW Saccarappa Dam, the next dam upstream. Parties to the agreement had said they hoped the measures would trigger fish passage farther upstream at 800-kW Mallison Falls, 1-MW Little Falls, and 1.9-MW Gambo dams.

�Sappi and the other parties worked very hard to make this preliminary agreement work. However, unforeseen increases in the costs of the work needed to realize the proposed designs have required Sappi to re-evaluate its decision,� company spokesman Margaret Brady said. �… The company realized that the updated estimated costs of the dam removal would be significantly more, several million more, than previously estimated.�

A Sappi spokesman did not comment on costs in 2007, other than to say they were “estimated to be in the millions.� However, a press estimate at the time put costs to Sappi at more than $10 million, with $6 million of that needed just to remove the dam and to conduct associated engineering work.

Sappi uses Cumberland Mills Dam to store water for use in making paper. Upon removal of the dam, Sappi was expected to install pumps and other equipment to draw water from a shallower, faster-moving river.

�Sappi is proud of its strong environmental policy and believed the expected outcome of the preliminary agreement was consistent with its sustainability strategy,” Brady said. “However, as the costs escalated, the long-term economic implications of the agreement had to be reconsidered before moving forward with the dam removal.�

Parties to the preliminary agreement included Sappi, a unit of S.D. Warren Co.; Maine’s Department of Marine Resources; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; American Rivers; and Friends of the Presumpscot River.

Prior to the preliminary agreement, Friends of the Presumpscot River had pushed the state to mandate fish passage at Cumberland Mills Dam, which is not federally licensed because it does not generate power. Since Sappi’s decision to withdraw from the accord, Friends of the Presumpscot River and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources have asked that those proceedings resume.

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