Topsham, Brunswick asked to prohibit Androscoggin River access near dam

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TOPSHAM — The town and Brunswick, its neighbor across the Androscoggin River, will weigh rules aimed at improving public safety in the waterway.

Brookfield Renewable, owner of the Brunswick Hydroelectric Facility on the Androscoggin, has asked the Board of Selectmen to consider creation of a water safety zone that would prohibit activity in the water on both sides of the power plant.

It would empower police departments to enforce trespassing rules, Town Manager Rich Roedner said in an interview Monday.

Creating the zone requires a new ordinance, which would have to go to Topsham Town Meeting in May. Selectmen were due to discuss the proposal Thursday, Feb. 1.

The Brunswick Town Council, which can approve ordinances on its own, is due to consider the safety zone March 5, according to Town Manager John Eldridge. The panel first plans to run the proposal past a subcommittee.

Brookfield noted in a January memo to the Board of Selectmen that the area around its plant “is widely used for recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing by community members. While many areas of the river are safe for such recreational activities, there are portions upstream and downstream of the hydroelectric facility that pose public safety risks.”

Roedner said he knows of at least one drowning and several near-drownings in the river during the 15 years he has worked in Topsham. Topsham Police Chief Chris Lewis said he believed there have been two drownings in his nearly 20 years with the town. Mike Labbe, the town’s deputy fire-rescue chief, said there were two calls last year for people stranded on rocks or an island near the dam.

Brookfield said that despite installing boat and safety barriers each year to keep people from getting too close to the dam, “the high flow conditions and swift currents often found in the headpool (make) it difficult for Brookfield’s Operations team to safely install them.”

Each year brings calls for help from Topsham and Brunswick emergency responders in that part of the river, putting those people at risk along with those they are trying to save, the company added.

Having previously approached town officials about the concerns, Brookfield added warning signs along the river, but “this effort has not been as successful as we had hoped and we are looking at additional measures,” the company said in its memo to the town.

It wants Topsham and Brunswick to enact water safety zone ordinances that would ban people from being in the river from the downstream side of the Frank J. Wood Bridge (the “Green Bridge”), to the upstream side of the Maine Department of Transportation’s railroad bridge (the “Black Bridge”), Roedner said.

“That would be their water safety zone, where it can become extremely hazardous when water levels change, when they start letting the water flow because the currents change,” he added. “They call it a headpond for a reason; it’s a pond that creates head when they open up the gate, and it turns into a swiftly-flowing river.”

The restriction would apply to people on the water – swimming or in a vessel – and not to those on the beach or fishing from it, Roedner said.

Brookfield’s proposed ordinance calls for a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for the second and as much as $500 for further violations.

“It gives the police some teeth if they need to have somebody removed,” Roedner said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Brookfield Renewable, owner of the Brunswick Hydroelectric Facility on the Androscoggin River, wants Topsham and Brunswick to enforce trespassing rules around the property.

A proposed safety zone around the ble, the company which owns the Brunswick Hydroelectric Facility on the Androscoggin River would run from the upstream side of the Maine Department of Transportation’s railroad bridge (southwest of the Swinging Bridge), to the downstream side of the Frank J. Wood Bridge (southwest of Sea Dog Brewing Co.).

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.