As many of you have read in the editorial section of the Post, emotions have been running high between those in favor of keeping or removing the KLPD dams on the Mousam River. Each side comes at the issue with genuine caring and integrity. In an early discussion I was convinced that a free flowing river, as described by the one side, would be ideal. However, as I became more aware of the many implications of dam destruction, I’ve been convinced that it would be a mistake. To be completely transparent, I live on the river, am an avid canoeist and confirmed environmentalist. I’m also a psychotherapist and facilitator who believes that civil discourse and dialogue are always better than petty arguments.
In that spirit, I presented the idea of getting both sides together for a discussion and the KLPD Board and the Kennebunk Selectmen seemed to support the idea. With cooperation from both the Save The Mousam and the Mousam and Kennebunk River Alliance (MKRA), a meeting was held in April with 5 individuals representing each side, 6 neutral ratepayers, and staff from KLPD, the Town and the Chamber. The outcome was both a better understanding of the issues and some very broad agreement on shared values. This was followed up with a smaller meeting organized informally by Town staff and aiming at the possibility of developing specific proposals. While several ideas emerged, each was fraught with concerns that we still lack a lot of information that needs to be gathered before a decision on keeping or losing the dams is made.
Here is why, having heard the arguments from both sides, I believe that one or all of the dams should stay. First, while only now providing a small percentage of our town power needs, any renewable energy is important. With newer technology, it would not be a stretch to double that energy output in the future. Renewable energy, by the way, reduces, our carbon footprint here in Kennebunk by many tons of pollution per year. Secondly, cost is a real concern. What was initially presented showed that it would cost a huge amount more to re-license the dams than to remove them. Ironically, the latest figures, now confirmed by at least five different sources with expertise in the field, shows just the opposite. Over the next 40 plus years, it will be considerably more expensive to purchase the coal and oil generated electricity from the grid than to maintain and grow our renewable energy from the dams. Thirdly, for the many canoeists, kayakers and swimmers who use the river above the Kesslen dam, at the optimum recreational summer months, the river in many places would become a trickle and non-navigable and non-swimmable.
While these are major reasons in favor of keeping the dams, there are other concerns. From a safety point of view, fire departments have had to draw water from the river to put out major fires. Depth required for this would disappear and, in many places that safety outlet would be lost. Similarly, with the steep banks in places, there are safety issues for children playing. We also do not know what lies under the layer of sediment now on the river bottom. We do know that many pollutants were dumped into the river from various manufacturing plants and we don’t know if toxic wastes will be uncovered if the river is allowed to dry out with dam destruction.
The MKRA group wants to have an eco-system re-develop similar to what was present almost 200 years ago. This would allow better fish passage. Interestingly, both sides agree that this would be ideal and with proper fish ladders, this could be achieved with the dams in place. However, with dam removal, certain endangered amphibians and plants could be placed at greater risk. The MKRA cites the river below the Kesslen dam as what the river might look like with dam removal but, given the slope upstream of from 1%-3% this defies the laws of physics.
The bottom line is that for renewable energy, cost, recreational use, safety, reducing pollution risk, and general appearance for the Town, dam destruction could hurt us with unintended consequences, never really discussed. Our environment, our pocketbooks and the quality of our special environment could be irreparably damaged. Again both sides care and are pushing at what they see as the right choice but stepping back, at least for this tax paying ratepayer, the right decision is obvious.