June 7, 2010 - historic tidal energy: tide mills and

Monday, June 7, 2010

I've been looking into the history of tidal power and coastal use policy. The Winnegance story is illustrative of the kind of resources and opportunities that exist along the coast of Maine and many other states, as well as the kinds of conflicts that arise through development of these resources.

One classic conflict is between energy development and environmental protection. For dam proposals, whether tidal or in rivers, one of the common considerations is the impact on fish. Recently, this came up in the Fort Halifax dam case, where a lack of agreement over fish passage resulted in 2008 in the depowering and removal of the 1908 dam.

Fish protection came up with the dams and mills at Winnegance as early as 1892. In that year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine considered the case Oliver v. Bailey. On February 24, 1892, game wardens on patrol came across a bass net that had been strung across Winnegance Creek by John Oliver, whose property abutted the stream. This was prohibited by a special act passed in 1885, which regulated the level of water behind the dam as well as the catching of bass in Winnegance Creek.

The Court's opinion notes the the local history and alterations to land use based on commercial needs:

prior to 1837 Winnegance creek was an Inlet of the Kennebec river; that in that year, under the charter granted in 1835, the dam was erected across said creek, and northeast of the public highway, extending from the Bath to the Phippsburg shore; that sawmills on the dam were erected, and gates constructed, for the purpose of sawing lumber; and that the dam so erected, and the mills so constructed, thereon, had for their purpose the utilization of water to be held In the creek above said dam by the operation of said gates.

The Court's opinion provides an interesting look into how the tide mills played a major role in shaping the local landscape:
It was also agreed that since said date, at different times, as business might warrant, the several mills upon said dam have been in operation; that the owners of said mills each have above the same, and between the dam and the highway, booming privileges. In which to place their logs, and that the same were set off and allotted to the several owners of the mills on said dam, wherein each might place and hold his logs for use; that the flood gates in said dam are 18 feet wide, would admit scows, lighters, and rowboats, and that such had at times passed through said gates, and under said highway; that, at a certain time of tide, mastless scows, skiffs, and boats can pass under said highway, provided the owners of the booming privileges leave an opening so to do; and that there has been place left by the owners of said booming privileges for craft, of the kind and type designated, to pass up said creek.

The court again addressed the impacts of the tide mill development on navigation and commerce:
It was also agreed that the bridge connecting the city of Bath and the town of Phippsburg has been maintained by both for many years; that said bridge is built, legally, of cobwork spiling, and across the channel are stringers, affording a space under said bridge from 30 to 40 feet long, that gundolos may pass through up and down; that some 40 years ago a schooner was built and launched In the creek, and taken out to the Kennebec river, by removing a portion of the dam sufficient to give passage to said schooner from the creek Into the river; that the lighters mentioned, carrying boards and wood of some kind, have occasionally passed through the gates, and under the bridge; and that the millowners, when the tide had reached its flood, have all the gates so constructed that, at the beginning of slack water, they close, and the water is held for the purpose of running the mills constructed on said dam.

Oliver argued that the regulations were "intended only for the protection of salt-water fish, or fish that migrate between salt and fresh water". Oliver argued that the 1835 legislative dam authorization and 1837 dam construction, use of the upstream pond for booming logs, and limited navigation through the dam, "separated Wlnnegance creek above the dam from the general body of the tidal waters of the state, and taken it out of the above-cited statutes for the protection of migratory fish."

The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, stating, "The statutory protection of these fish is as important now as before the erection of the dam." Oliver lost his case, and presumably his net.

In Oliver's case, the court wrestled with the question of whether the tidal power development had so fundamentally changed the landscape as to take Winnegance Creek from tidal to non-tidal status. The court concluded that, in light of environmental considerations, it had not. There may have been other more subtle issues in play in the 1892 case, but it provides an interesting window into the past history of tidal energy development in Maine.

I'm curious how this issue would be addressed today. What are the inshore effects of tidal barrage and related power technologies? Today these issues might not come up in the context of game wardens, but the descriptions of the tide mills' impacts of navigation, commerce, and fisheries all have relevance to modern tidal power development.

Soon to come: more Winnegance history, and a look at how things were for the much larger Passamaquoddy Power Project in the 1930s.

No comments:

Post a Comment