Our little corner of the world has a lot going for it. From Katahdin to the Penobscot River and everything that surrounds it, we certainly aren’t lacking in natural beauty.

This isn’t news to anyone who lives here, but people come from far and wide to hike, paddle, ATV, snowmobile, fish and hunt here. The economic impact of this is significant — the Maine Office of Tourism estimates that visitors to the Maine woods, which includes lakes and mountains, the Kennebec Valley, Maine Highlands region (Penobscot and Piscataquis counties) and Aroostook County, spent $2.3 billion in the local economy in 2017.

Earth Day was Monday, April 22 so, I wanted to take a moment to talk about a bill that I’ve been working on to help preserve and improve the natural beauty of our region: LD 817, “An Act To Advance the Restoration of the Penobscot River”.

The Penobscot River’s role in this part of the world is critical, as it has been since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. It is a center for fishing, travel, industry and importantly, is of great cultural significance to the Penobscot Nation.

Unfortunately, industrial activities on the river over the past few centuries have contributed to a decline in water quality and the abundance of natural resources in the Penobscot. Dams erected first to control the flow of the river to aide in log transport, and eventually generate electricity, impeded the migration and spawning of fish. Logging operations, discharges from paper mills and other industrial sites and untreated wastewater polluted the river significantly.

In the 1960s, the first major efforts to clean up the Penobscot were undertaken. The state and the federal government developed water quality standards, undertook cleanup efforts and began regulating polluting activities on the river, which resulted in a remarkable turnaround in water quality. Fish passages were constructed to bring back migratory and spawning fish, with some success as well.

In recent years, progress toward a cleaner Penobscot River has been steady.

The Penobscot Project, led by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and others, has resulted in the successful removal of two dams on the river, and construction of a fish passage on a third. The previous owners of the affected dams were able to increase electricity production at other sites, effectively balancing industrial and environmental interests.

This is a model for what successful restoration efforts should look like. The old adage that we can have either “pickerels or payrolls,” i.e. we can protect the environment or the economy, but not both, is false — a strong environmental initiative protects both.

In that vein, LD 817 builds on these successful efforts and extends protections currently in place on lower sections of the river up to the Milford dam. In doing so, it ensures uninhibited fish passage up to Milford. This will be a boon for fishermen and get us a step closer to a fully restored Penobscot River.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to reach my office at 287-1515 or [email protected] I work for you and you have a right to hold me accountable.

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