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State Rejects Plan for Rebuilt Crooked River Dam

October 29, 2008 - HARRISON -- A group working to restore a 160-year-old sawmill on the Crooked River in Harrison would have to do it without rebuilding a dam there, under a preliminary state ruling.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has issued a draft order denying permission for a dam to generate power for Scribner's Mill, which is being restored as a living history museum. Although the mill's owners would install a bypass for fish, the dam poses too great a threat to the valuable landlocked salmon population in Sebago Lake, the DEP said.

Historic preservation advocates and environmentalists have been divided over the project for years, and now have until Nov. 26 to comment on the preliminary decision. The DEP expects to issue its final decision in late December.

"The DEP recognizes the historic significance of restoring a water-powered sawmill at the Scribner's Mill site," according to a 17-page draft order issued Friday.

However, it said, the construction and operation of the dam would harm key spawning and nursery habitat for Sebago's salmon, an ecologically and economically important species. Along with interfering with fish passage, the dam would create an impoundment that would support rival warm-water species such as bass.

The DEP also said the mill's owners have several alternatives for powering some or all of the mill, including the use of water power without reconstructing the dam.

Sebago is one of four water bodies in Maine with landlocked salmon, and the upper Crooked River above Scribner's Mill is considered the primary spawning and nursery habitat for the population. The original dam was breached in 1972.

Scribner's Mill, meanwhile, is a rare example of an intact sawmill with its original machinery, including an up-and-down sash saw that could be used to produce authentic timbers for restoration projects. Advocates say it represents a valuable opportunity to restore and preserve an important part of history, and they plan to keep trying.

"It's a draft denial and it's a road map for us to continue to defend our position. It's not the last word," said Marilyn Hatch, spokeswoman for Scribner's Mill Preservation Inc., the nonprofit owner of the mill.

Hatch said the preservation group still hopes to persuade the state that its fish bypass proposal, a natural rock ramp, would allow easy access upriver.

She also said the alternatives for powering the mill have other problems, including no access to electric power. The most likely option would be to use a gasoline motor to pump river water into a reservoir and then use that water to spin the mill's wheel, Hatch said.

That would create pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

"We'd just as soon use clean water power rather than pumped water power." But, Hatch said, "If we have to resort to that, we will do it."

Conservation groups were relieved by the draft DEP ruling.

"It's victory for the fishery," said Bill Oleszczuk, a director of the Sebago Chapter of Trout Unlimited. "It was a very scary idea to us. I'm all for the museum and the mill being restored. I just don't think the river needs to be dammed up to do it."

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer, Portland Press Herald, October 28, 2008


Lakes: Sebago Lake
Regions: Sebago


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