Portland, ME – On September 9, 2011, Judge George Z. Singal of the United States District Court for Maine rejected a plea to dismiss or stay three of the four NELC lawsuits brought against Maine dam owners for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuits accuse the companies of operating their dams on Maine’s Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers in a manner known to harm en-dangered Atlantic salmon, which depend on these rivers as habitat. Although the companies claim that they are in the process of obtaining federal permits that would require steps to minimize these adverse effects, the issuance of such permits is likely years away and would not protect the few remaining salmon in the interim.
NELC brings these suits on behalf of Environment Maine, a statewide advocacy group, and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, a local organization named for the estuary that is shared by the two rivers. Federal environmental agencies have already determined that dams on these rivers pose significant threats to salmon, but the agencies have yet to develop a comprehensive plan for the recovery of the species.
Judge Singal’s orders affirm earlier recommended rulings by a U.S. magistrate judge that the Act allows Plaintiffs to sue despite the pending permit application process, that the issues at stake are ripe for resolution, and that the court does not require “specialized” input from the agencies before it can determine whether the dams harm salmon.
“These majestic fish are on the brink of extinction,” said Emily Figdor, Director of Environment Maine. “The court recognized its need to step in now, before it’s too late.”