Portland, ME – As had been requested in four lawsuits filed by NELC attorneys in 2011, seven hydroelectric projects on Maine’s Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers will soon be covered by “incidental take statements”(ITS) issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
The lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Maine on behalf of Environment Maine and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, alleged that the dams were violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by killing and otherwise “taking” endangered Atlantic salmon without the requisite ITS. Last fall, NMFS issued ITS for three of the projects, and it has committed to issuing them for the remaining four this sum- mer. As a result, extensive studies of salmon will be conducted at the dams over the next five years, and upstream fish passageways will be installed at the Kennebec River dams to allow the salmon to migrate more freely to their spawning grounds.
Sadly, though, the promise of the ESA has been undermined here by a federal agency too willing to compromise with the hydroelectric industry, and by a federal court unwilling to use its authority to prevent injury to an endangered species.
While the site-specific studies and upstream passage required by NMFS represent progress, these measures will do little to protect the downstream-migrating salmon passing the dams during the upcoming years of study. And while the District Court ruled that dams on the Kennebec and Androscoggin do kill salmon during their downstream migration, the court refused to issue an injunction compelling the dam owners to shut down their turbines.
“It’s been four years since Atlantic salmon were listed as endangered,” noted Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine. “I’m disappointed the court chose not to exercise its power to protect them.”