THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY Commission (FERC) has ruled that FPL Energy can proceed with its plan to breach the Fort Halifax dam on the Sebasticook river near Winslow, Maine, US.
The January ruling sets up the possibility that the dam can be breached this year as required in the 1998 Agreement on fish passage. The agreement stipulated that FPL Energy has a fish lift in place by 1 May 2003 or pursue steps for dam removal.
The dam has generated controversy since FPL Energy announced it would pursue dam removal rather than build a fish lift to satisfy fish passage requirements for sea-run species; the energy company considered the estimated US$3–4M cost of a fish lift to be economically unfeasible. The cost of dam removal is put at under US$800,000.
But more than two years ago, the utility offered the alternative of constructing a ‘fish pump’ at the dam, rather than the fish lift favoured by conservationists and FERC. As the proposal to install the ‘fish pump’ was not acceptable to conservationists, the utilty has opted to breach the dam to allow fish passage by removing a 26.5m section of the 96-year-old dam.
Late last summer FERC issued a six-month stay on FPL Energy’s application to breach the dam. The federal agency encouraged the various parties with a say in the dam’s fate to use that time to explore other options to achieve fish passage at the site. But no agreement was reached, and dam removal appears to be the only remaining option that would comply with the 1998 fish passage requirements stipulated by FERC.
In any case, prior to dam removal, FPL Energy must get permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Winslow Planning Board. The process will involve public hearings and is expected to take months to complete. In the meantime, USACE has expressed concern that breaching the dam could lead to more ice jams on the Kennebec river and a greater potential for flooding in the Augusta area. Acting on that concern, USACE has asked dam owner FPL Energy to conduct a formal study of the issue, scheduled to be done early this year. FPL Energy has already contracted with a branch of the USACE to report on the matter.