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YARMOUTH — Using a 4-ton grip hoist and a pulley system positioned between two trees, five people from four different agencies started work Tuesday on a small, but significant project to restore fish passages on the Royal River.
About two dozen granite blocks – some more than 4 feet long and about 2 feet thick – jam up the water flow near Elm Street, the remains of a small, old bridge that collapsed a few years ago.
Matt Craig, of Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, part of the team hoisting the blocks out of the water, said removing the blocks wouldn’t have any immediate impact, but it will help with future habitat restoration on the river.
“We’re not providing any new access right now, but it’s a good stepping stone,” he said. “We hope to eventually re-establish the connection between Casco Bay and the Royal River.”
The blocks were originally part of a small walking bridge that connected Yarmouth to Factory Island, where a paper mill operated.
Although much larger projects involving two town-owned dams would have to be completed before fish are able to return, this is one of the first physical, albeit small, restoration projects on the river.
“It’s a small piece, but it’s not just symbolic,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said. “It’s kind of low-hanging fruit we could get down.”
The comprehensive river restoration project hopes to restore native fish like the American shad, river herring, white sucker and brook trout. One of the only fish swimming the Royal River now is the American eel, Tupper said.
This $5,000 project, mostly funded through a grant from the Estuary Partnership, is a step forward in the river restoration project, something former large grant issuers like the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration like to see, Tupper said.
Most of the questions surrounding the town dams focus on the Elm Street dam, which the council has aesthetic, historic and environmental concerns about, Tupper said.
The town did not qualify for a grant from the NOAA this year, which would have helped pay for studies to answer those concerns, he said.
Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, who is also working to pull the blocks out of the river, said right now is an exciting time for rivers in Maine.
She pointed to the June decommissioning and demolition of the Penobscot river’s Great Works dam in Bradley, which blocked the river for almost two centuries, as an enormous success for river restoration advocates in the state.
She said she hopes the Royal River can be restored not only for the fish, but for Yarmouth.
“We do have a Main Street in Yarmouth,” Hudson said. “But that’s the real Main Street.”
The removal of granite slabs from the Royal River in Yarmouth is one of the first projects in a larger river restoration plan.
Cecil Cates, right, and Jed Wright muscle a small granite slab out of the Royal River Tuesday, July 31, in Yarmouth. The slabs were part of an old bridge that once serviced Factory Island.
Steve Koenig fastens a strap around a large granite slab in the Royal River, Tuesday July 31. Koenig is executive director of Project Share in Washington County, one of four different groups working to remove the former bridge slabs from the Yarmouth river to restore fish passage.