FARMINGTON — Selectmen on Tuesday discussed the future of Walton’s Mill Dam and a drain pipe project that affects endangered Atlantic salmon.

The dam, which dates back to 1820, poses an obstacle to upstream migration of salmon, Town Manager Richard Davis said.

The town has been approached about a potential grant-funded feasibility study regarding the Temple Stream dam’s effect on salmon habitats, Davis said.

In an update on the Front Street drainage project, Davis said the site for discharge into the Sandy River is in a prime salmon spawning habitat. Davis is researching two potential changes for the pipe outlet. One change includes construction of a large retention pond to help pull out pollutants.

Federal permitting for the project, however, has stalled the work. The permits are expected to be received within the next few weeks, he said.

Last fall, Paul Christman, a marine scientist from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, sought permission to conduct a feasibility study on the town-owned Walton’s Mill Dam, but he was unable to obtain funding. 

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Christman wants to include the study in a grant application to the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a larger Kennebec River project.

Board Chairman Joshua Bell and Davis also received a letter from Julia Crocker, an endangered species coordinator for NOAA, expressing concerns about the effects of Walton’s Mill Dam on Atlantic salmon.

Atlantic salmon were listed as endangered in 2000. Temple Stream was noted as a critical habitat for the salmon in 2009, she wrote.

The town did a restoration project on the dam about 10 years ago. 

In January 2011, Ron Joseph, a retired wildlife biologist, told a gathering in Farmington that the Atlantic salmon restoration project in the Sandy River was showing promising results. The Sandy River and its tributaries provided a cold, favorable environment for the Atlantic salmon. Although the 600,000 salmon eggs planted within river sites the previous January sounds like a large number, the 140,000 young salmon in the river in 2010 had faced high mortality rates, he said at the time.

The salmon would return to the sea and head for the waters of Greenland and then return, he said. The approximate 300 adult salmon remaining from the “Class of 2010,” as he referred to them, were expected to return to spawn in 2014.

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More eggs were planted that month and again in 2012 for subsequent returns in 2015 and 2016, Joseph said previously.

The salmon travel from the ocean up the Kennebec River but are stopped at the Lockwood Dam in Waterville, Joseph had said at the time. At that point, they need to be trapped and trucked back to the Sandy River. The fish need to make it past four dams along the way back to the Sandy River.

As part of the application, NOAA Fisheries wanted Christman to secure a letter of support from the town and indicated there is no obligation to the town for allowing the department to undertake the study.

Davis said he planned to submit the letter.

If funding is obtained, the study could be done this fall or during the summer of 2017, Christman told Davis.

The town is likely going to be required to do one of two things in the future, Davis said: install a fish ladder or remove the dam.

The study is expected to provide feasibility and costs for removal, estimates and options for a fish ladder and some artistic renderings of what the area would look like if the dam was removed.

“Decisions for removal or passage installation would likely rest in the hands of the people of Farmington,” Christman wrote in his letter.

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This map illustrates important reproductive habitats for federally listed Atlantic salmon. The red area along the Sandy River in Farmington indicates spawning habitat for the fish. The yellow area identifies year-round rearing habitat for juvenile Atlantic salmon, from the egg stage to 2 years old. 


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