There's a reason why the tagline for this site references two rivers; Maine's waterways have often defined this state. They were a source of food and the preferred method of transportation for natives and the first Europeans, they became the highways that allowed Maine to dominate the lumber industry in the 1800s, they provided the power for and carried the waste from Maine's first paper mills, and they do the same today while also having become an industry in and of themselves for tourists and sportsmen. Just as importantly, since long before Thoreau paddled up the East Branch, Maine's rivers have been inspirational places of beauty and an important link to our past.
I know how powerful a river's influence can be. To the right is a view of the Stillwater Branch from my backyard. Ducks, fish, turtles, beavers and a dozen other creatures all inhabit the waters and shore and bald eagles patrol the sky. The iron rings that were once used to chain logs in place are still embedded in the rocks along the water's edge.
The influence of rivers on the politics of this state has been profound as well. Waterways often show the first signs of pollution, and the modern environmental movement in Maine has often been focused on preserving these fragile environments. Congressman Mike Michaud acknowledges that it was a river that got him into politics, saying "When I ran for the Maine House 23 years ago, it was because I saw what my mill was doing to the Penobscot River."
Today an editorial in the Bangor Daily News examines the effort to remake our river.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project proposes to purchase and remove two dams - Great Works in Old Town and the Veazie Dam- and to create a state-of-the-art fish bypass at the Howland Dam. In addition, the project proposes to increase power generation at six dams from Medway to Graham Lake so that up to 96 percent of power generation is maintained.
Removing the dam will allow fish, especially salmon and sturgeon, to again swim up and down river without impediments. Restoring the ecology is part of the project, which is estimated to cost $50 million and is backed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Restoring local economies is another.
The groups behind the project, which include American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Penobscot Indian Nation and Trout Unlimited, want towns to think of the river as an economic development tool.
This is a monumental undertaking. Maine Rivers has announced that "The Penobscot River Restoration Project may be the most progressive and comprehensive attempt in history to rebalance hydropower production with fisheries and other ecological values on a major river." Senator Collins declared that "The effort to improve the Penobscot, a river that flows through the heart of our state, represents an effort to restore a portion of our heritage."
This project isn't just important for its goals, but also for its methods. Here is a model for how environmental and sportsmen's groups, industry, and all levels of government can work together to preserve our ecology, our history and our future. Penobscot Partners is seeking more community involvement and will be holding a meeting this Saturday in Veazie. They also have a blog.
Visit the new Maine Politics.