Following the release of preliminary proposals for the Head Tide Dam in Alna Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Head Tide Dam Committee, formed by the board of selectmen to consider options to improve fish passage at the site, must now determine a path forward.
The proposals presented by the engineering firm Inter-Fluve, were designed to meet the committee’s desired outcomes, which include improving fish passage, enhancing recreational use of the site, and maintaining the site’s historical integrity, Cathy Johnson, a Head Tide Dam Committee member, said.
Two of the four proposals presented to the committee also awakened fear the committee was making an effort to remove the Head Tide Dam, a dam that was gifted to the town with a deed restriction that stated it not be removed.
Leave the site as is, enlarge the holes currently in the dam, which were cut in the 1950s to improve fish passage, remove one-third of the spillway, or remove two-thirds of the spillway, were the initial options presented to the committee, Johnson said.
There was a strong feeling among the committee that removal of a portion of the spillway may be more than the community is ready for, Andrew Goode, Atlantic Salmon Federation’s Vice President of U.S. Operations, said.
According to the Maine Municipal Association’s legal advice to the Alna Board of Selectmen, even if the community d
id approve removing a portion of the spillway, the deed restriction on the dam would prevent it, unless a court order was obtained, or the heirs of the dam’s former owner released the town from the deed restriction.
“We are writing out of our unanimous concern that the committee is pursuing options for the Head Tide Dam that are simply not feasible under the language attached to the deed,” the Alna Board of Selectmen wrote to committee members following the Dec. 8 meeting.
The Alna Board of Selectmen formed the Head Tide Dam Committee nearly a year ago at the request of the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association, who were interested in working with the town to improve fish passage in the Sheepscot River.
The organizations also approached the Whitefield Board of Selectmen, who formed the Coopers Mills Dam Committee to consider options to improve fish passage upriver. (See related story: Proposal for Whitefield’s Coopers Mills Dam slated for public hearing.)
Tuesday, Dec. 8 was the first time the committee heard the proposals presented by Inter-Fluve who based their designs on data, such as water velocity, swimming ability of migratory fish, and the dam’s structural integrity, in addition to the desired outcomes of the committee, Goode said.
According to Goode, enlarging the current holes in the Head Tide Dam will do little to improve fish passage; removing one-third of the dam’s spillway will be some improvement; removing two-thirds of the dam’s spillway will allow for total fish passage.
Removal of the spillway, however, would be a major modification to the dam which would require either a court order or a release from the heirs of Allen Jewett, the dam’s previous owner. If a court order were to be pursued, it would require an almost unanimous consensus among the town, Third Selectman Doug Baston said.
“I can’t imagine that happening,” Baston said. “I personally feel an obligation to honor the trust that Allen Jewett put in this town that we would honor the restrictions he put on the dam.”
With the preliminary proposals for the Head Tide Dam unlikely to garner enough support to move forward, the Head Tide Dam Committee must now consider next steps. Selectmen do not plan on disbanding the committee, Baston said.
Selectmen also do not want the committee to spend time pursuing options that will cause a deep division in town and that the town is legally barred from carrying out, he said. “If there are other options go for it,” Baston said.
The Head Tide Dam Committee has gathered a lot of valuable information, both Johnson and Goode said. Both felt the next step would be to engage the larger community and share the information gathered by the committee.
“Now the committee has the hard data,” Goode said. “The discussion going forward is – what’s the best way to proceed without polarizing the community. First things first, we need to figure out a plan that people like.”