LEWISTON — A plan to take over downtown canals goes to the city’s lawyers, councilors agreed Tuesday.

Councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to agree to terms with Brookfield White Pine Hydro LLC, letting the company donate the canals to Lewiston while letting the city keep higher levels of water flowing through them.

“Basically, we are interested in maintaining our water levels,” City Administrator Ed Barrett said.

Barrett said the city has been negotiating to take over canals for more than seven years, and has 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.

“We have come a huge way from where this project started,” Barrett said. “There would have been big costs the city would have taken on, in terms of (Tax Increment Finance districts) that were requested, in terms of costs, to repair the canals and water rights that would have been given up.”

The canals run for more 1.5 miles through the downtown, beginning just downstream of the Great Falls and rejoining the Androscoggin 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.

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

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

The canals date back to 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. Florida Power and Light, which took over the canals, was eventually renamed NextEra Energy Maine. The company sold the canals to Canada-based Brookfield in 2012.

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