HOWLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A milestone was celebrated Tuesday in the effort to reconnect 1-thousand miles of the Penobscot River to the sea. For the first time in nearly two centuries, salmon, alewives, and other sea-run species will be able to travel up the river beyond the Howland Dam.
It took 17 years for this day to happen. Conservationists, state, federal, local, tribal governments, and hydro-dam owners, worked to come up with a plan to allow fish back up the Penobscot while allowing hydro-dams to operate without losing generating capacity.
The celebration of the Howland Bypass project took place at the confluence of the Penobscot and Piscataquis rivers near the Howland Dam.
"We've had a great partnership to make the bypass happen," said Laura Rose Day, the executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the group spearheading the project.
According to Day, the bypass around the Howland Dam was a $4.8 million dollar project funded nearly 50/50 by government grants and private donations. The last piece of a complex puzzle opening dams downstream all the way to the sea.
"We recognized that for generations to come the cultural existence of the tribe is going to depend on the health and vitality of the river," explained Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis. For him this is not just about the past but about the future for the youngest members of the tribe like Woli Williams-Thunderwalker, who is happy that fish will be able to return to their breeding grounds.
"They're going to go upstream and the natives can get their fish back," she said.
With the completion of this project, 1000 miles of the Penobscot is open to the sea.
"Just this morning I heard that the first tagged Atlantic Salmon passed through the fish bypass so that's big news and it really marks the beginning of the recovery of the river and that's really what it's all about," Day said.
And this was the last of three phases of the project beginning with the removal of the great works dam in 2012 and the Veazie Dam in 2013.
Project leaders say because of the way the project was engineered, the hydro-dam owners have actually increased their power generation capacity on the watershed.