Whitefield’s Coopers Mills Dam Committee is preparing to bring their proposal for the dam’s future to a public hearing, a final step before adding the committee’s recommendation to the warrant for Whitefield’s annual town meeting in March.
Three options are currently on the table in Whitefield – removing the dam, repairing the dam, or leaving the site as is. The committee intends to present those options and their recommendations for the dam’s future to the public in a hearing tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
The deadline to finalize the annual town meeting warrant in Whitefield is early February 2016.
Nearly one year ago, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association approached the select boards of Alna and Whitefield with a proposal to work with the towns to improve fish passage at two dams.
Alna’s Head Tide Dam and Whitefield’s Coopers Mills Dam are both town-owned and on the Sheepscot River, a natural spawning and rearing habitat for Atlantic salmon, which is an endangered species in 11 Maine rivers.
Alna and Whitefield both appointed committees to work with the organizations to develop proposals for the future of their respective dams – proposals complicated by the unique situation in each community. (See related story: Alna’s Head Tide Dam Committee considers next steps)
In Whitefield, the Coopers Mills Dam impounds water for a dry hydrant, which is critical for fire safety in Coopers Mills, Whitefield Fire Chief Scott Higgins said. The dry hydrant, however, is only operational for 9 months out of the year.
In a Dec. 10 meeting, the Coopers Mills Dam Committee heard proposals for a new dry hydrant system if the dam is removed. Michael Riley, of the James W. Sewall Company, an engineering and natural resource consultancy firm, presented a dry hydrant system that would replace the current dry hydrant with two hydrants – one located upstream and one downstream.
The system would also include an alternative dry hydrant site on the West Branch River in Windsor, Riley said. “Right now we have a simple system that works,” Higgins said. “The new system is a lot more complicated with a lot of unknowns.”
An alternative option for the Coopers Mills Dam, repairing the dam, which is currently leaking, would also provide year-round fire protection, Higgins said. The Atlantic Salmon Federation, however, will not fund the dam’s repair, which is a cost Whitefield would be responsible for.
The third option for the dam is the “do nothing option,” committee members said. While maintaining the status quo will work in the short-term, the dam is deteriorating and the town faces the possibility it will one day fail. If the dam fails, there will be no dry hydrant in Coopers Mills, Higgins said.
Inter-Fluve engineer Michael Burke presented a conceptual design of the Coopers Mills site if the dam is removed. The rendering presented Dec. 10, was a plan B design which incorporated the previous feedback of the committee.
In the design, there are terraces, gardens, overlooks, picnic areas, and monuments commemorating the historical significance of the site. A proposed fire pit at the site, contained in plan A, or “the Cadillac plan,” was removed at the request of the committee.
The Coopers Mills Dam Committee updated Whitefield Board of Selectmen about the committee’s progress Tuesday, Dec. 15. The committee anticipates it will formalize its recommendation for the future of the Coopers Mills Dam in early January and present the committee’s work to the public in a hearing scheduled for Jan. 21, 2016.
The committee’s recommendation for the Coopers Mills Dam will largely depend on the needs of the Whitefield Fire Department, committee members said.