HARRISON – A state board has upheld a decision by the Department of Environmental Protection to deny a preservation group a permit to create an impoundment on the Crooked River.

The Board of Environmental Protection voted 8-0, with one member absent and one vacancy on the board, to deny an appeal by Scribner’s Mill Preservation Inc. The group was seeking to add a rock ramp fishway to the river to facilitate the restoration of a historic sawmill.

The Board of Environmental Protection is made up of 10 residents appointed by the governor, and meets once or twice a month for the purpose of rule-making and hearing appeals.

The fishway would have a 2.6 percent slope and increase the impoundment of the Crooked River by 1.9 acres under average river flows. The work would go along with the group’s plans to install penstocks and waterwheels at the 1847 sawmill and have it operate by water power to create wood products for the restoration market.

Several environmental and recreational organizations spoke against the project, saying the project would inhibit the upstream passage of landlocked Atlantic salmon and create a better environment for warm-water fish to prey on juvenile salmon. The river is the primary spawning habitat for the salmon, and 65 percent of the spawning takes place upstream from Scribner’s Mill.

The DEP denied a permit for the group in December on the grounds that it did not meet four requirements, including that the project would result in significant economic benefits and not affect water quality.

The group appealed the decision earlier this year, saying that the mill was unique in that it was the only 19th century sash sawmill remaining in North America on its original site, with its original buildings and equipment, and with the ability to be operated by its original power source.

The appeal argued that the mill would create an annual economic value of approximately $409,000 through salaries, the sale of wood products, tourism and special events, and educational benefits. It also said the claims that the project would inhibit fish passage were based on misrepresented data, including contentions that the project would destroy rather than alter habitat.

Dana Murch, dams and hydro supervisor of the DEP, recommended in a memo and draft order to the Board of Environmental Protection that the appeal be denied. Murch said that the project would “have a significant adverse impact on the existing use of the Crooked River and Sebago Lake for fishing and landlocked salmon.”

Murch said that while there are “inherent imprecisions” in the measurements of fish habitats, the group did not provide evidence that the salmon habitat would not be negatively affected. He said claims that the fishway would include resting pools and other methods to facilitate passage were subjective.

Murch said alternatives are available to run equipment at the mill, including installing a gate in the breached dam to allow fish passage when the mill is not in operation, using auxiliary power to run the mill, or using water pumped into a headbox. The group has criticized these alternatives as incompatible with the mill’s 19th century use or detrimental due to the use of fossil fuels.

Murch said Monday that the group may appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court before May 27. He said the group does not need to get a DEP permit if it chooses to use an alternate power method unless the method uses water power.

Scribner’s Mill operated from 1847 to 1962, and Scribner’s Mill Preservation was created in 1975. The dam at the site was partially breached in 1972 to allow for upstream salmon passage.


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