Sappi Fine Paper explains plans for Westbrook fish passage | News

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Sappi Fine Paper explains plans for Westbrook fish passage

WESTBROOK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The dam at Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook could soon be gone. Sappi Fine Paper, which operates the dam, is looking into two plans that call for its removal, because the company wants to give up the hydroelectric facility.

The paper company held a public hearing Wednesday night to explain the two options to residents.

People in the community see this as an opportunity to restore the fish population on the river. Many of them also see it as a chance to keep building up recreation on the river, which the city has been focusing on in recent years.

Rob Mitchell, president of the Westbrook River Park group, has been pushing for a whitewater kayaking park near Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook for years. Now, he believes it's closer than ever to becoming a reality.

"This is go time," he said. "Time to build. Time to finalize design."

Mitchell and dozens of other paddlers want Sappi to go with a plan that calls for removing the dam, building a channel for fish to swim up and leaving space that could be used for recreation, like kayaking.

 His group made its point before a public hearing Wednesday, arranging kayaks to spell "Rec + Fish." Those kayakers are in opposition to people who want to go with Sappi's other plan, which would still see the dam removed, but create two channels for fish on both sides of the river.

"Watching fish, there's a connection there," Mitchell said, adding, "To put your hands in the water, to paddle the water, to fish the water. to interact with the water, it's 10 times the magnitude of what you're going to bring away from the river."

Aaron Frederick, Executive Director of Friends of the Presumpscot River, advocates the two-channel plans. He said that plan allows for time to see how the fish will migrate.

"I'm a white water paddler. I'm a sea kayaker. I want a site that's less than ten minutes from my house, but I don't want that at the expense of the ecosystem," Frederick said.

Frederick said the groups don't have to go against each other. He believes it's possible to have two channels for fish and a whitewater recreation area, and he's hoping to work with Sappi and the other stakeholders to make it happen.

Sappi Fine Paper would like all comments from the public submitted by September 11. It hopes to have the project finished, regardless of the plan it chooses, by 2017.




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