LEWISTON — Acknowledging that the downtown canals might be valuable for more than generating electricity is one of the bigger changes in city negotiations, Administrator Ed Barrett said Thursday.

At a special City Council workshop Thursday night, Barrett outlined details of the deal giving Lewiston control over the web of canals, preserving the city’s water rights and freeing them up for future uses.

“It’s been an issue that’s come up in negotiations over time,” Barrett said. “The argument had been made that the city’s only right to the water in the canals was for electrical generation. But as you know, there are several groups and individuals interested in at least exploring how that water could be used for recreational purposes, for one example.”

Councilors are scheduled to vote on accepting the deal at Tuesday’s meeting, allowing lawyers to begin drafting the formal agreement with owners Brookfield White Pine Hydro.

The canals date back to the mid-1800s when they were first dug to harness the Androscoggin River’s power for industry. At first, they were owned by Lewiston Water Power Co., later called Union Power. That was later taken over by Central Maine Power. CMP was purchased by Florida Power and Light and eventually renamed NextEra Energy Maine. NextEra sold the canals to Canada-based Brookfield in 2012.

Barrett said the city has been negotiating to take over the canals for more than seven years, and been close to settling three times. Each instance called for the city to give up its claim to keep at least 150 cubic feet per second flowing in the canals.

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That’s no longer an issue.

“The city would maintain all of its current water rights, so the issue of giving them up is now gone,” he said. “The deed would now be clarified that those water rights are no longer tied to electrical generation, and that the water can be used for any purpose.”

Brookfield will terminate its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses on the canal and the city will eliminate its power generating licenses, according to the agreement.

It would also clear up ownership issues at Bates Mill No. 5. The city owns the building but Brookfield owned rights to the unused generators in the basement.

Councilors said they were excited to get the canal ownership settled.

“I think the canals are a really important part of our redevelopment and the overall development of the Riverfront Island,” Councilor Kristin Cloutier said. “So, I’m really excited that we’re moving in this direction.”

The canals run for more 1½ miles through the downtown, beginning just downstream of the Great Falls and rejoining the river just south of Locust Street. The system includes two main canals, upper and lower, and two cross canals. Water levels are controlled by the gatehouse at the top canal system.

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