Yarmouth, Maine considers dam removal, other options

Monday, October 31, 2011

The town of Yarmouth, Maine is holding a meeting on November 1, 2011 about the future of two town-owned dams on the lower Royal River.

The Royal River flows nearly 40 miles across Maine, from Sabbathday Pond in New Gloucester to meet Casco Bay in the town of Yarmouth.  Along this course, the Royal River falls about 300 feet, much of which forms a series of old dams and falls in its lower reaches.  The village of Yarmouth formed around several of these dam sites, which provided mechanical power to mills and businesses in the village.  Today, dams remain on the Royal River.  A non-hydropower dam spans the river near East Elm Street, while the Sparhawk Mill dam hosts hydroelectric generating facilities near Bridge Street.

The Sparhawk Mill dam was originally built to provide mechanical power, but hydroelectric generating facilities were installed in 1984.  Now, the Sparhawk project can produce 270 kilowatts of power, and operates under a licensing exemption issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 1985.

Today the town of Yarmouth owns the dams, and is considering their future.  The Sparhawk dam is reportedly not producing much -- if any -- revenue for the town, while both dams may need maintenance and repairs.  Some community members suggest dam removal for reasons ranging from municipal fiscal policy to enhancing fish passage along the Royal River.  Others point to value of the Royal River's continuing ability to produce renewable hydroelectricity, and urge that the dams be maintained.  The East Elm Street dam could even have electric generation facilities installed, either traditional hydroelectric or hydrokinetic devices.

The community forum starts at 7 p.m. on November 1 at Yarmouth Town Hall.

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