The Leonard Lake Dam in Ellsworth. Credit: Bill Trotter

State officials plan to hold a public meeting next week on a controversial proposal to relicense a hydroelectric dam on the Union River in Ellsworth.

The meeting, which will focus on water quality certification for the dam, will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Ellsworth High School.

Black Bear Hydro Partners has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a new operating license for the facility, which actually consists of two dams — one that generates electricity just upstream from the Route 1 bridge in downtown Ellsworth, and another at the southern end of Graham Lake that controls the flow downstream to the lower dam.

Environmentalists have criticized the dams’ operation for lacking adequate fish passage and unnecessarily killing large numbers of fish, and for how it has affected water levels in Graham Lake, which has experienced dramatic seasonal reductions in the water level.

As part of the federal license renewal process, FERC is requiring Black Bear to get state approval for how the dams affect water quality in the river.

Black Bear has proposed making some modifications to the facilities and how they are operated in order to secure a renewed license, such as adding upstream eel passage and making improvements to downstream fish passage and protections. But FERC officials also have said that water levels in Graham Lake should fluctuate less drastically and that operation of turbines in the lower dam should be adjusted during certain times of the day and of the year, including temporarily stopping some or all of the turbines, to help protect migrating fish.

Black Bear’s application and supporting documentation are available for review at the DEP office and online. Written comments and questions can be submitted after the July 9 meeting by sending them to Kathy.Howatt@maine.gov, or by mailing them to Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 28 Tyson Drive, Augusta, ME 04333-0017, attn: Kathy Howatt.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....