PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The owner of four hydroelectric dams on the Kennebec River sued two Maine agencies on Monday alleging they improperly cooperated on fish passage regulations that impact the future of the dams and fish populations.
The lawsuit filed in Kennebec Superior Court is the latest brought by Brookfield Renewable Power, a subsidiary of a large Canadian company that owns many of the dams in the state, the Portland Press Herald reported.
The lawsuit contends that the Department of Marine Resources improperly helped the Department of Environmental Protection draft fish passage policies, claiming that the cooperation between state agencies violates a 1993 settlement between the dams' then-owners, environmental groups and state and federal bodies.
The company argues that under that settlement, disputes about fish passage standards related to the dams must be resolved through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses dams. The Shawmut dam is currently under review for FERC relicensing and must get water quality approval from Maine as part of that process.
In July, the federal agency decided that endangered Atlantic Salmon in the Kennebec River can be protected without removing the four dams. In September, environmental groups sued the company, alleging that it is violating the Endangered Species Act and is operating the dams illegally by harming salmon.
Brookfield spokesperson Miranda Kessel said Maine regulators are “acting on their own accord and not following the regulatory processes they are supposed to follow.”
But Scott Ogden, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, called the lawsuit “meritless” and a missed opportunity to work to save salmon.
“Brookfield has the opportunity to work in good faith with the state of Maine to restore the endangered Atlantic salmon to the Kennebec River, a feat that would be historic in nature and that would make Maine the last refuge in the United States for these fish,” Ogden said.
The four hydroelectric dams on the Kennebec are the Shawmut Dam, Hydro Kennebec and Lockwood in Waterville and the Weston dam near Skowhegan. Mills has said she wants one of them removed to allow river-run fish improved access to the Kennebec and other habitats upriver.
Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the dam owners’ lawsuit bordered on “frivolous.”
“I guess in today’s age there’s no shame, and if you say anything loud enough and often enough maybe enough people will think it’s true,” said Mahoney, whose organization supports removal of the dams.