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Gulf of Maine Times

Vol. 3, No. 3

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Gulf Log

Edwards dam breach frees Maine river

Augusta, Maine --- The Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River gave way to free-flowing waters during a July 1 public ceremony that followed years of lobbying by conservationists, and a landmark federal ruling.

Removal of the 162-year-old dam has reopened about 18 miles/29 kilometers of prime spawning habitat for 10 species of migratory fish whose passage had been been blocked by the dam since 1837.

The Edwards Dam is one of many structures blocking rivers that drain into the Gulf of Maine. Dams, causeways, and other obstructions impede migratory fish passage and cause other environmental effects.

In 1997, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled that the hydroelectric dam should be removed against the will of its owner, Edwards Manufacturing Co. It was the first-ever such ruling by FERC, and followed years of lobbying by the Kennebec Coalition, a group of conservation organizations. The project has also involved businesses, power companies, and municipal, state, and federal agencies.

On the morning of July 1, a backhoe removed a section of a gravel coffer dam that had been constructed to hold back the river while workers removed part of the hydroelectric dam. As the river began to flow through the channel, it washed away the rest of the coffer dam, allowing the Kennebec to flow freely. Removal of the rest of the dam will be complete by November.

CN government halts Petitcodiac opening

Fredericton, New Brunswick --- Federal and provincial officials discontinued an experimental opening of the controversial Petitcodiac River Causeway on June 2 after only a few weeks, citing insufficient water flows.

The project began in April and was expected to continue through much of the summer. Government agencies had planned to study the effects of the experimental opening to determine the feasibility of restoring free-flow to the tidal river. The Petitcodiac, which travels through southeastern New Brunswick to the Bay of Fundy, is one of many rivers in the Gulf of Maine blocked by dams and causeways.

Controversy has surrounded the Petitcodiac River Causeway since its construction 30 years ago. Environmentalists say it is killing the river's natural ecosystem, and want it removed. Others --- including residents living along a headpond that would be drained if the dam were opened or removed --- say restoring free-flow would also cause environmental problems. They want a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be completed before any further action.

The federal and provincial governments have not undertaken a full EIA. But in a June 1 news release, the province stated that "Any further gate opening projects would be subjected to an environmental impact assessment process."

Georges Bank Panel: Extend drilling ban

Halifax, Nova Scotia --- Ranking the value of habitat, biological diversity, and fisheries above the potential worth of gas and petroleum reserves, a panel has recommended extending a drilling moratorium on the Canadian portion of Georges Bank.

The Georges Bank Review Panel's June recommendation did not indicate how long the moratorium, now due to expire January 1, 2000, should remain in place.

Convened under the 1988 Canada-Nova Scotia Accord Acts establishing the moratorium, the panel was charged with conducting a public review of the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of exploration and drilling on the Bank and recommending a course of action to the Canadian Minster of Natural Resources and the Nova Scotia Minister responsible for the Act. The recommendation was due by July 1. The ministers must make their decision by January 1, 2000.

Following a series of information sessions, community workshops, and public hearings in Nova Scotia, the panel issued a report citing what it described as the Bank's exceptional ecological value, and the value of its fishery. It noted that evidence exists that seismic surveys and exploratory drilling --- used to determine whether or where to drill for hydrocarbons --- could affect fish and other marine species.

Fishermen's organizations, environmental agencies, conservation organizations, and other groups support extending the ban.

"If commercial quantities of oil or gas were discovered, development and production would eventually follow; it would be inappropriate to permit the associated risks on Georges," the panel's June report states.

The US and Canada share jurisdiction over Georges Bank, with approximately one sixth of it lying on the Canadian side of the border. Last year the US extended its own Georges Bank drilling moratorium until 2012.

Plans target mercury, acid rain problems

By Joy Manson New Brunswick Department of the Environment

Portland, Maine --- Participants in a June 4 workshop on regional efforts to address mercury emissions and acid deposition discussed an ambitious program aiming to virtually eliminate all releases of mercury in the region that are generated by human activity.

The program is being undertaken by the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. Emissions of mercury, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides can be deposited close to emission sources or travel thousands of miles to coastal watersheds.

The more than 150 workshop participants from across the region represented health and environmental groups, industry, the private sector, scientists, and government officials charged with implementing action plans to reduce mercury and acid deposition. They called for public education about the health impacts of mercury deposition and acid rain, for private sector involvement in acid rain reduction, and for health agencies and business and environmental groups to be more actively involved in developing a mercury reduction action plan.

In October, the Acid Rain Steering Committee and the Mercury Task Force will report to the Conference on what will happen in year two.

Mercury occurs naturally, and also becomes airborne during combustion and incineration processes. As it falls to earth it can enter coastal waters where it can become toxic to humans and animals. Mercury increases in concentration as it moves through the food chain.

Acid rain occurs when nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere convert to nitric acid and other nitrogen- containing compounds that fall to earth, fertilizing coastal waters and depriving aquatic wildlife of oxygen and habitat. Acidified rainwater can also more easily dissolve potentially toxic heavy metals and deposit them in coastal estuaries in the form of runoff.