The Forest City dam on East Grand Lake in this May 18. 2017, file photo. The dam's owner Woodland Pulp LLC filed papers to surrender its license to operate the dam and decommission the project. The decommissioning of the project could possibly result in the permanent drop in water level of East Grand Lake. Credit: Gabor Degre

Gov. Janet Mills is making a new push to prevent a potential drawdown of East Grand Lake that could leave thousands of camps and residences high and dry.

Mills sent a letter last week to the chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission presenting a rationale for the agency to drop jurisdiction over what is called the Forest City Dam. Part of a 100-year-old hydropower system, the dam sits partly in the United States and partly in Canada, and it keeps the 16,000-acre international lake at its current levels.

The dam’s owner, Woodland Pulp and Paper, wants to cede it to someone else or abandon it, saying the commission’s licensing requirements are too expensive. The commission has so far balked.

[A Down East mill wants to walk away from the dam it owns. The feds won’t let that happen.]

Now Mills says new water flow models commissioned by the state show that if a third party takes over, the commision can legally give up its jurisdiction.

“A big effort on Governor Mills’ part to get behind it, I will tell you that,” said Timothy Peabody, the deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “I mean it’s just a very important resource to the state of Maine.”

The consultant’s lengthy report concludes that, under new ownership, the dam can be operated in a way that minimizes its contributions to the downstream mill’s electricity production, thus taking it out of energy commission’s purview.

David Townsend, president of the Chiputneticook Lakes International Conservancy, said the dam would still be operated to protect habitat and property on the lake, which is a prized resource among international anglers.

“It’s a heck of a trick of how in the world you’re going to manipulate the dam for public policy purposes, but still ensure that, essentially, it’s going to generate an insignificant amount of power downstream,” he said.

[The fate of this tiny border town may rely on the future of its dam]

Townsend’s nonprofit group has shown interest in playing a role in the dam’s ultimate ownership and operations, although the expenses of doing so have yet to be tabulated.

But first, he said, potential stakeholders will want to see whether the federal commission is even interested in Mills’ proposal.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.