Brilliant fall colors in the Basin, Phippsburg, Maine.
Continuing my look at dams targeted for removal: today, the Great Works dam on the Penobscot River in Maine. This is an interesting tale of mills, dams, changes in ownership, and changes in use. Like the Briggsville Dam in Clarksburg, Massachusetts, the Great Works dam was built to support a mill -- but like the Boston Felt dam, the Great Works dam produced renewable power.
The Great Works Hydroelectric Project (FERC project no. 2312) is located adjacent to the Old Town mill (which has changed hands over the years, and is now owned by Old Town Fuel and Fiber). Originally built in the late 1800s, the Great Works project's FERC license was issued in 1963, with an original expiration date of March 31, 2002.
In its most recent incarnation, Great Works consisted of a powerhouse containing 11 turbine-generator units totaling about 8 MW of installed capacity; a non-overflow section with two operating fishways and three gated outlet pipes (one 6 foot square, two 9 foot diameter); and a spillway equipped with flashboards extending from the non-overflow section across the river to the east river bank in the Town of Bradley. The total length of the Project is approximately 1,353 feet. The dam forms a 128-acre impoundment at a normal impoundment elevation of 81.73 feet. The tailrace is separated from the main river by an earthen dike and the powerhouse discharges to the tailrace. The presence of the earthen dike creates a bypass reach of approximately 1,200 feet in length, and approximately 1,000 feet of which is a backwater. The project also includes two operating Denil-type fish ladders, one located in the tailrace, the other at the west end of the spillway. An older abandoned fish ladder is located near the center of the spillway.
In March 1997, James River Paper Company owned both the mill and the dam. James River filed a notice of intent to file an application for a new license. Shortly thereafter, the dam changed hands to PPL Great Works, LLC. In 2003, Commission staff suspended the processing of the project's relicense application to allow negotiation of a multi-project, "basin-wide settlement agreement" - a comprehensive agreement covering water flows and dams throughout the Penobscot River watershed.
That agreement - the Lower Penobscot Basin Comprehensive Settlement Accord - ensued on June 25, 2004. Seven conservation groups, hydroelectric company PPL Corp., the Penobscot Indian Nation and state and federal agencies, agreed to the removal of both the Great Works and Milford dams as well as the removal of flashboards and the installation of a fish bypass at the Howland Dam.
Pursuant to the settlement agreement, on November 7, 2008, PPL Great Works and the Penobscot River Restoration Trust (Trust) filed an application to transfer the license to the Trust, and the Trust filed an application to surrender the license for the Great Works Project and remove the project’s dam.
On June 16, 2010, FERC issued its order approving the surrender of the project license (29 page PDF of the order). In its order, FERC described the process to be used in removing the Great Works dam:
The Great Works Project impoundment would be drawn down through the opening of gates and removal of the flashboards. Then, an upstream access road would be constructed from the east bank along the entire length of the spillway. Another road would be constructed downstream out to mid-channel to allow removal of the abandoned fish ladder. The spillway would be removed in sections from west to east with concurrent removal of the access road. Following this, another road would be constructed from the west bank across the upstream side of the powerhouse. From this road, the remaining portion of the spillway immediately adjacent to the powerhouse would be removed along with the two operational fish ladders. The forebay area would be filled and graded and the access road removed. The project’s powerhouse is proposed to remain because it houses equipment for an adjacent pulp mill.Removal of the Great Works dam may occur in 2012, bringing a close (or at least a new chapter) to this tale of a mill and its dam. In this case, the greater Lower Penobscot Basin Comprehensive Settlement Accord and the actions of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust played a major role. In a coming edition, I'll look at the policy considerations that went into that settlement agreement, including the promises of both improved sea-run fish passage and continued hydroelectric generation elsewhere on the Penobscot River.