LISBON — Rain didn’t delay crews as they began to clean up Sabattus River debris from a June 2012 dam breach.

John Burrows, director of New England projects for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said the stream-side stabilization project is the first step in efforts to improve the river as a habitat for alewives. The fish are an important buffer for migrating salmon, providing an alternative meal for predators.

“Cleaning up this channel and pulling stuff back should make downstream fish passage better in the long run,” Burrows said. “The Sabattus River and Sabattus Pond have been a long-standing priority for the state of Maine. We hope to have free swim passage for the alewives from the Androscoggin River all the way up to the Sabattus Pond over the next five years.”

Workers put down temporary sandbags along the old dam to keep the river from overflowing their work site. Burrows said the project should help the little park between the old dam and Village Street.

“We should probably be done at the end of next week, depending on how much rain we get between now and then,” he said.

The dam was one of three that stop up the Sabattus River as it winds its way from Sabattus Pond to the Androscoggin River. But it’s the only one the town owns. Farwell Mill Dam and the Mill Street Dam, southwest of Lisbon Community School, are privately owned.


The town-owned dam washed out after more than 7 inches of rain fell over two days in June 2012. An iron post at the center, a support for logs that blocked the river, had failed. The washed-out bridge left chunks of brick and concrete in the riverbed and eroded the banks to a park downstream.

The banks of the river have been littered with debris ever since.

“All the big rocks and granite blocks and debris, we’ll pull it out of the channel,” Burrows said. “Then we’ll put some blocks along the base of the park and fill it back in with soil on top to fix the park. That’s basically it for now.”

The federation is paying for the $17,000 stream-side stabilization, with town crews helping to do the work.

“Hopefully, in the short term, it will be better and safer place for people to be, and to visit,” Burrows said.

A full study that would look at repairs to the dam will wait until more funding is available.


“Next, we’d do feasibility studies here and upstream to determine the best ways to improve fish passage,” he said. “Here, that will look at the total cost to remove the dam permanently or to rebuild it but with a built-in fishway.”

The current work should wrap up sometime next week. Crews will use heavy machinery to pull old logs, pieces of granite and chunks of concrete out of the river. They’ll also knock out a retaining wall that runs perpendicular to the dam itself.

“We’ll take down the first 35 feet of that wall,” Burrows said. “It’s mostly a public safety issue. It has trees growing out of it, and it’s going to start crumbling. If anyone climbs on it, it will fall in.”

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