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YARMOUTH — After a three-hour discussion, comments from 21 residents and presentations from town staff, engineers and experts in the field, the Town Council tabled action on the future of the Bridge Street and Elm Street dams.
The council decided to continue the discussion at an Operations Committee meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 6.
The meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19 was not taped or recorded due to technical difficulties, there were only five councilors present and they couldn’t reach consensus on how to proceed.
Town Manager Nat Tupper presented four options for the council to consider: move the community toward the removal of the dams in whole or in part and toward the restoration of the natural flow of the Royal River; retain the dams as they are and try to improve the condition, design and maintenance of the existing fish ladders; sell the dams to a third party, or do nothing.
After receiving a presentation from Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, Planning and Development Director Vanessa Farr, and Mike Chelminski of Stantec Consulting Services, the council took public comment.
In addition to the 21 people who spoke for or against the dam removal and urged the council to make some decision, or at least to gather more information, Yarmouth High School students provided the council with a petition signed by more than 100 students in support of dam removal.
“Nobody is proposing a (dam) removal at this point, but rather should we go in the direction of further study, further understanding in the direction of removing them or should we say that is not the direction we want to go,” Tupper said. “One thing we think we know with some certainty is that nobody is going to give you a grant if the Town Council sits on information and doesn’t point a direction of where it would like to go.”
Although council approval is required to pursue the funding needed to explore the action of dam removal, Farr said the council could stop the process if there are unanticipated negative impacts associated with the removal of the dams.
Tupper said the council could also take a more neutral stance, and explore information about how the removal of the East Elm Street dam would affect the river, and if pollution and sediment would be an issue downstream.
While C ouncilors Steve Woods and Leslie Hyde were in favor of moving forward with the dam removal option in order to apply for grant money, Councilors Carl Winslow and Randall Bates were not in favor of promoting dam removal just to get financial backing. They also supported a more neutral motion. Councilor Andrew Kittridge said he is unsure of his position, but wanted to move forward in some way. Councilors Erv Bickford and Tim Sanders were not present.
The council will meet to discuss the issue on Monday, Feb. 6, as the Operations Committee, at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at Town Hall.