After years of discussion, future of Forest City dam still not finalized

by | Sep 3, 2023

Dam operations’ impact on the St. Croix watershed, area lakes, wildlife and environment among the many topics at CLIC annual meeting

Seven years after the issue became a concern for Canadians and Americans living and using East Grand Lake and surrounding waterways, the potential removal of gates on the American side of the Forest City Dam remains a risk.

Although the future of the dam and who, if anyone, will operate the gates controlling the flow of water from East Grand Lake and the rest of the watershed became a topic of discussion in 2016, the answer remains elusive.

The Forest City Dam arose again as one of the numerous issues discussed at the Chiputneticook Lakes International Conservancy (CLIC) annual meeting at First Settlers Lodge in Weston, Maine, on Aug. 19.

CLIC secretary Frank Bolton said that while the health of the lake area’s sports fishery, water quality and recreational opportunities is on the minds of many on both sides of the N.B.-Maine border, the dam’s future is the most critical concern for many.

Bolton explained the threat of the U.S. government agency FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) demanding the removal of the gates on the American side of the dam on East Grand Lake in Forest City still exists.

Bolton explained that Neal Berry, the executive director of the St. Croix International Waterway Commission (SCIWC), addressed the annual meeting about the commission’s progress in resolving the issues that arose seven years ago about the dam operation at Forest City.

Woodland Pulp announced in 2016 that it applied to surrender control and operation of the dam. Seven years later, a potential agreement between the St. Croix International Waterway Commission and Woodland awaits FERC approval.

Removing the dam or permanently opening the gates would have a severe and lasting impact on water levels, water quality, fish and wildlife survival, and sport and recreation use of East Grand Lake and other waterways. 

Berry reported that negotiations between SCIWC and the Woodland Pulp mill regarding an operating agreement for an unlicensed operator continue. Under the agreement, the Waterway Commission would take over the dam’s ownership and work with Woodland Pulp to have them operate it.

Berry explained that the mill will amend its current surrender application, seeking to transfer ownership to the Waterway Commission.

Bolton told the River Valley Sun that Berry outlined the goals of the commission’s agreement to the 45 CLIC members at the annual meeting.

“The goal is to operate the dam with respect for wildlife, fisheries, recreation, flood control and property protection,” Bolton said. “There is no change anticipated to the Canadian fishway in Forest City at this time.”

Berry explained officials must send all documents to the FERC.

As a government agency, FERC must make those documents public and allow for comments.

Bolton explained Berry’s address included an optimistic viewpoint.

Berry hopes to see the entire process completed by the end of the year.

Bolton explained FERC has regulatory power over any dam that produces electricity, no matter how small an amount.

The CLIC meeting, chaired by outgoing president David Townsend, covered various topics, including several fish species’ health and stock levels. Cathay Conley stepped into the role of president.

CLIC water-quality committee updated members on water quality, noting the organization needs more volunteers to gather water samples and enhanced invasive plant monitoring.

During water-quality discussions, Berry said testing indicates St. Croix Watershed water quality has improved in recent years.

He noted the SCIWC, established on both sides of the border in 1986, found East Grand Lake’s water quality consistently good over the past 25 years.

Bolton said some at the meeting questioned that water-quality report.

Townsend suggested the water may be improving below Mud Lake Fall, but he believes it recently deteriorated on East Grand Lake.

FOREST FIRE INDEX – click image for current status

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