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New report outlines financial impact of lower Kennebec River dams

As gubernatorial candidates debate the future of the Shawmut Dam, a new report highlights the financial impact of mills and dams along the Kennebec River.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Leaders with the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce are hoping to provide regulators and politicians with new information highlighting the economic impact of multiple dams and mills along the Kennebec River.

According to a report released by the MMCC, four dams and two mills in the lower-Kennebec support more than 1284 jobs, creating $158.5 million in employee earnings to the regional and state economies. 

The report was conducted by Camoin Associates, an economic development firm, and commissioned by the MMCC. It specifically analyzed four dams owned by Brookfield Renewable U.S. including Weston, Shawmut, Hydro Kennebec, and Lockwood, which are located in the lower portion of the Kennebec River between Skowhegan and Waterville. The report also analyzed the impact between those four dams, and two mills including the Sappi and Huhtamaki mills.

"The operations of the dams and the two mills that rely on the annually—annually mind you—support in Kennebec and Somerset Counties, 3200 jobs, 1284 of which are direct impacts," MMCC Kim Lindlof said.

According to the report, the dams support 40% of Maine's remaining paper mill industry. The report also states that the dams generate roughly $7.4 million in sales tax revenue, and over $8.9 million in property taxes. 

"These are great paying jobs. The average earnings per mill job is more than double that of average earnings per job across all industries in Kennebec and Somerset counties, and the ripple impact on the regional economy as you can see is extensive," Lindlof said. 

"The report that was released today, in many ways, tells us what we knew at least anecdotally about the hydro facilities in the lower Kennebec and that they are absolutely critical and to support a number of jobs in the community," Brookfield Renewable U.S. spokesperson David Heidrich said. 

Heidrich says that earlier this summer, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft denial of the water qualify certification as part of the re-licensing process for the Shawmut Dam. 

The Shawmut Dam is the only Brookfield Renewable property in the lower-Kennebec in the midst of a relicensing process.

One week ago, Republican Paul LePage held a press conference to discuss the financial impact of the closure of the Shawmut Dam. LePage also accused his November gubernatorial opponent, Governor Janet Mills, of working to close the dam. Mills called that a lie.

RELATED: Paul LePage and Janet Mills at odds over possible closure of Shawmut Dam

While candidates continue to debate that mill's future, local leaders are hopeful that they understand the importance it has to the region.

"We have people that work for Sappi, we have people that work Huhtamaki, we have business that provide services to those two business, both of which would be heavily impacted by the closures to the dams," Erica LaCroix, Winslow town manager said.

"This report shows the thousands of jobs that depend on these businesses and these dams, and that's a lot of unemployment for the region," LaCroix said. 

According to Heidrich, regulators could release an opinion on Shawmut Dam's relicensing process in October. 

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