AUBURN — The city will push for better outdoor recreation as the operator of the New Auburn hydroelectric dam works to renew its license.

“It’s critically important, because Lewiston and Auburn have historically rolled over in these processes, thinking we don’t want to be anti-business,” Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said. “This is not anti-business. The waterways are owned by the people of Maine, and we negotiate for the biggest economic benefit we can get from those waterways.”

Dam owner KEI Power Management has applied to renew the license that allows it to operate a 1,250-kilowatt hydroelectric dam on the Little Androscoggin, upstream from Barker Mill Arms. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses the company to operate the small turbine generator on the river. The firm’s current 30-year license expires in 2019.

Public comments on the application are due Tuesday.

Planner Eric Cousens said the application does not fully recognize recreational use for the river.

“They are saying, ‘Eh, there’s not many people out there,'” Cousens said. “A big part of that is because we have not provided quality access to the rivers.”

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That’s beginning to change, he said. Volunteers and the Androscoggin Land Trust have worked to reopen a walking trail that runs along the eastern shore of the Little Androscoggin River from Barker Mill, running south for about three-quarters of a mile.

The city was awarded a $34,000 grant from the state’s Recreational Trails Program to widen a sidewalk along Mill Street west of Main Street, connecting it to the Barker Mill Trail. Plans also call for building a small parking at the head of the trail, just south of Barker Mill Arms.

“So here is our opportunity to provide comments on their draft study plan,” he said.

The company could be required to take fishing, kayaking, swimming and hiking into account as part of its license.

Councilors said it was worth the effort.

“This is what’s going to take the city forward in the years to come,” Councilor Leroy Walker said. “It’s something we need to get on strongly so they fear us and not back off like I think we’ve done in the past.”

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