The June Election is now past us and the reconstituted boards—Selectmen and KLPD Trustees, have resumed their duties. The elephant in the room for both boards is the future of the 3 KLPD dams on the Mousam River.
In the KLPD Trustee race, both candidates made their two contrasting positions on the future of those dams very clear to the voters. The incumbent favored taking them down and received 37.7 percent of the votes cast. The challenger favored keeping the dams and received 62.3 percent of the votes.
Two weeks ago, after reviewing the generation, maintenance, and safety update costs of the hydro-electric generating infrastructure, the KLPD Trustees decided to notify FERC of their intention to surrender their license to produce hydro-power when the current KLPD license expires 6 years from now in 2022.
The poor and outmoded condition of the generating machinery, reminiscent of Kennebunk High School’s recent plight, is the result of historic and continuing neglect.
Necessary and reasonable modernization steps were not taken over the previous decades, and as a result KLPD electricity generation has declined and the District’s ratepayers have had to pay for the replacement power, purchased off the grid, in their monthly electric bills.
Where does this decision to surrender KLPD’s license 6 years from now leave the Town of Kennebunk?
Between now and the beginning of the lengthy relicensing process, another company could enter the scene, purchase the dams and equipment, and seek FERC approval for its own electric generating license.
A major capital equipment modernization plan with long-term financing would bring hydro-electric production on the upper Mousam into the 21st century and profitability.
Another option would be for the Town of Kennebunk to take up KLPD’s offer to transfer ownership of the 3 dams to the Town.
Because of the upper Mousam’s historic importance to our town, its unique eco-system developed over 350 years of manufacturing and dams, its contribution to our quality of life, and the unlimited upside potential for recreation and community involvement, the “Town Option” is a very serious decision to consider.
In addition, a growing number of residents believe that the removal of the 3 dams would be a major back-stepping blow to our already more than 3 million dollar investment in our continuing Main Street revitalization efforts.
The Board of Selectmen should take advantage of this open “window of opportunity’ taking the time to launch a serious full-town effort to explore this option.
The Selectman can call upon the expertise and energy of the various town committees, local organizations, talented professionals, and our residents who have proven that they belong to a creative, “can do” community.
The Board of Selectman
In the misfortune following if the dams are torn down, there are serious concerns that will need to be answered during the next year.
1. Clarification of property boundaries for a much diminished river.
2. Property valuation uncertainties. Meet with local Realtors and Property Appraisers to determine what is already happening
and the possible future impact to property owners and the Town itself.
3. The Property Tax Abatement Process. Would these abatements be retroactive?
4. Potential cost of these possible 220 plus abatements to the Town’s stream of annual property tax revenues? Would that annual revenue loss to the Town exceed the cost of the Town’s ownership assumption and relicensing costs, including the unnecessary fish ladders(based on the 2009 Alden Fish Census Report), over the life of a bond?
5. Current storm water drain systems will be stranded some distance to a much narrower river. Whose liability and cost?
6. Liability concerns if now sealed hazardous toxins are swept onto abutting properties, down river, and also in the Gulf.
Board of Selectman Intervener Status
For the Town and its residents to have a voice in the FERC relicensing process, the Town must file as an Intervener.
1. Authorize our Town Manager to meet with the KLPD General Manager to discuss matters in the relicensing process.
2. Establish a schedule of Public Workshops between the Selectmen and the Trustees.
3. Meet or talk directly—no second hand information, with the FERC Liaison who has already been pre-assigned to this relicensing process. Learn the ABCs for the role of an Intervener.
4. Contact the town officials of Madison. Within the past 10 years, they’ve completed the FERC relicensing.
Madison Electric, like our KLPD, is 1 of only 3 consumer-owned, non-profit utility companies in the State of Maine, so their recent process through the regulatory process mirrors our soon-to-be process.
5. Talk with the town officials of Yarmouth who successfully fought a recent 3-year campaign against outside interests when they made the decision to keep their dams.
Their concerns mirror those now shared by a growing number of Kennebunk residents.
Historical Importance to the Fabric of Our Town
Town Historian, Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk Free Library, and Local Historians
You don’t know who you are today, until you first know where you’ve been.
Local historian Ken Joy fixed 1670 as the date for the first sawmill and dam on the Mousam River. For the next 300 years, the mills with their water wheels and later with hydro-electric power manufactured lumber, textiles, cordage, shoes, paper, leather board and ground the farmer’s corn and wheat.
Shipbuilding may have created many great local fortunes and the Summer Street mansions, but our mill town heritage was an important economic cornerstone of this once small village.
Our younger generations and newer residents in most cases are unaware of this history and the role that our dams and manufacturing have played.
We’ve discovered that when local historical information becomes available, they have a huge appetite to learn more about this place called “home.”
1. The two panels—the river/mills and Kesslen, in the “Museum of the Streets” is a great place to build upon.
2. Use the extensive collections at the Brick Store Museum, the Kennebunk Free Library, and in the Ken Joy Collection to begin crafting a continuing series of articles and photographs featuring the Mousam mills from sawmills to shoe shops for our local publications.
3. Begin to collect over time these articles, photographs, and research materials into an illustrated history of the Mousam River.
The book could be incorporated into the Middle School curriculum as part of their Maine History and Local Studies course requirement.
4. Encourage the support for the establishment at the Brick Store Museum of an annual exhibit and illustrated lecture series highlighting the mills and the men and women who labored in them.
Many don’t realize that beginning in the late 19th century and for the next 75 years, the social life of the mills workers revolved around many company sponsored dances softball teams, picnics, excursions, and seasonal celebrations. Many of the workers found their future spouses through these company events.
5. Similar to our WWII veterans, the numbers of our former mill workers, now mostly shoe shop employees, is dramatically declining. Some are still among us here in Kennebunk. We need to honor them.
6. As a minimum in the short-term while many of them are still with us, we need to dedicate a commemorative plaque could be fixed on the Main Street Mousam River bridge honoring their contributions to their town.
For the long-term, it would be proper if by public subscription a town monument could be designed and erected in their memory at the river’s edge at the old Kesslen Mill.
Family members could buy commemorative bricks honoring their family members who worked in the mills.
Increasing Access and Use of the Upper Mousam
Selectmen, Kennebunk Recreation Department, Town Engineer, Town Public Works Director, Chamber of Commerce, and Kayak/Canoe/Paddleboard Outfitters
The upper Mousam is one of Kennebunk’s best kept secrets, a hidden treasure, visible from a public road only at the Route 1 bridge and at the Mill Street bridge in West Kennebunk.
Those who have lived along it through the generations or who today paddle it know how fortunate we are to have this river in the geographic center of our town.
If the 3 dams are town down, almost all recreational activity on the upper Mousam will cease because of the loss of 80 to 90 percent of the water impoundments, a rocky bottom, a depth of around a foot-and-a-half on most stretches, and the loss of almost all of the current public and private access points.
That would be the “last paddle” for this generation. Our goal as a town should be to increase access to the upper Mousam, not end it.
1. The Selectmen should create the “Upper Mousam Recreation Area” to make it easier for the Town and local organizations to pursue grant funding.
2. Locate and map all public access points. Evaluate ease of access and parking, make recommendation to improve if necessary, and seek State or private sector grant funds.
3. Meet with the Trustees of the Kennebunk Land Trust. Their newly acquired large Kimball Hill parcel has access to the Mousam River.
Determine if the Town can help the Trust pursue grants for parking and increased access to the river.
4. Meet with the new owners of the Lafayette Center and the owners of the Twine Mill property to help facilitate parking access for kayak/canoe/paddleboard users and those who just want to take in the beauty of the scene.
5. Evaluate the Cross Country Team’s practice trail in West Kennebunk for use as a potential low-impact, unpaved wild “River Walk” along the Mousam.
6. The Eastern Trail will someday soon build south from the Kennebunk Elementary School and when the bike riders, visitors or locals, reach the granite, old railroad bridge at the Mousam River, it’ll be one of those “Oh my Gosh” highlights of their ride. That impoundment area behind the Twine Mill is one of the prettiest places in southern Maine. It takes your breath away, especially in the fall. If the dams come down, it will be lost forever.
7. Use of the river by the Recreation Department as a paddle activity within their Summer Program.
8. Create a brochure and a link on the Chamber website with a map detailing access points and parking, distances from dam to dam, and photographs showing the beauty of the waterway."