Webber Pond Fish Passage Public Meeting May 30, 2007 6:30 pm Vassalboro Community School In attendance: Amanda Brown, NRCS Jim Johnson, NRCS Elaine Tremble, NRCS Joyce Swartzendruber, NRCS Jeff Norment, NRCS Dan Baumert, NRCS Ron Desrosiers, NRCS Dale Finseth, Kennebec County SWCD Nate Gray, ME Dept. of Marine Resources Sandra Lary, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Robert Van Riper, ME Dept. of IF & W Frank Richards, Webber Pond Assn. president Mike Vashon, Vassalboro Town Manager Matt Bernier, Kleinshmidt, Pittsfield Mary Grow, Town Line & Kennebec Journal John Bussell, Vassalboro Mary Bussell, Vassalboro William Hamlin, East Vassalboro Karlene Hamlin, East Vassalboro Caroline Strong, Vassalboro Paul Mitnik, Vassalboro Charlie Backenstose, South China Peter Wilkens, China Bob Nadeau, Winslow Jason Valliere, Vassalboro Bill Browne, Vassalboro Ryan Burton, Belgrade Tony Loiko, Vassalboro Patten Williams, Augusta Barbara Williams, Augusta Jon Andrews, Augusta Liz Andrews, Augusta Mark Grenier, Vassalboro Tom Renckens, Augusta Gordon Mason, Vassalboro Richard Madore, Vassalboro Eric Fogg, Vassalboro Bob Locklin, Vassalboro George Gould, Vassalboro John Ganzen, Vassalboro Michael Pratt, Vassalboro Burton Davis, Vassalboro The meeting was hosted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as required by the federal environmental evaluation process. Following introductions by Jim Johnson, NRCS), Dale Finseth of the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) described his role as moderator and explained how the meeting would be run. Jim explained the purpose of the meeting, which was to gather public input about the proposed project of improving fish passage at Webber Pond. He explained that the National Environmental Policy Act requires NRCS to do an evaluation and get public input as part of the process. Cultural resources, fisheries, and impacts on the lake and downstream will be considered. The outcome of this will be an Environmental Assessment. Frank Richards, president of the Webber Pond Association (WPA) gave a brief background description of Webber Pond. The Webber Pond Association owns the dam at the outlet of Webber Pond, and because of this, they are an integral partner with the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) on the fish ladder project. The WPA has had extensive contact with Nate Gray from DMR. Nate wrote articles about the fish ladder in the 2004, 2005, and 2006 WPA newsletters. Nate made presentations at the annual business meeting of the WPA in 2004 and 2005. At the end of the 2004 presentation, the WPA took a straw vote to endorse construction of the fish ladder. It was almost unanimous – only two dissenting votes out of 30. At the 2005 meeting, the official endorsement was passed (one dissenting vote out of 40). There is a strong level of support for the fish ladder within the organization at this point in time. However, at the beginning there were many questions. - What is the danger of alewives becoming year-round residents of the pond? Frank explained that while land-locked alewives are a serious problem in Vermont and New York, the alewives in this project are sea-run alewives, an entirely different species. There has never been a recorded instance of sea-run alewives becoming year-round residents. The adults leave the pond shortly after spawning, and the juveniles leave in September or October. There has only been one report of an ice fisherman finding what he thought may have been an alewife. - What affect would the alewives have on other species? Frank said that, if anything, they have improved the fisheries at the pond. The adults head back to the ocean soon after spawning, and the juveniles eat zooplankton and become a forage species themselves. - What affect would the alewives have on water quality? Webber Pond has a strong phosphorus imbalance which creates algae blooms every year. The WPA heard a theory that the alewives would eat so much zooplankton that the algae blooms would become even worse. But they have not seen any evidence of this happening. They consulted with an independent biologist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. He advised that because the alewives sequester phosphorous, when they leave they take those nutrients with them, almost as much as the annual drawdown. Frank mentioned that he initially thought of the project as “environmental activism.” As the project has unfolded, he has come to think of it more as an economic development activity. Alewives become forage fish in the Gulf of Maine. This restoration project may help stabilize the commercial fishery in the Gulf of Maine. Alewives are a preferred lobster bait, which is a multi-million dollar industry. In the absence of alewives, lobster bait is imported from out of state. It would be good to have the bait originate in Maine and re-circulate the value in the regional economy. The town of Vassalboro will get a direct financial benefit from the fish ladder and from the harvest of alewives. By law, the town gets to assess a fee to lobster bait dealers for the harvest rights of alewives. This will likely be in excess of $10,000 a year once the operation is up and running. Also, with the fish ladder in place, there will be an opportunity for DMR to educate local students as part of the science curriculum with the Vassalboro Community School. There have been a couple of staging events at the dam, where large numbers of alewives assembled waiting to exit, but there haven’t been any die-offs or anything similar. At the annual meetings there were concerns about exotic species (carp, etc.) getting into the pond. Frank has looked into it and contacted a biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries &Wildlife. The biologist electro-fished the outlet stream twice on separate years and found no exotic species. The fish ladder is designed as an operable fish ladder – the fish can only pass through it when there is someone there to operate it. There is strong support for the restoration and the fish ladder within the WPA. The support became even stronger when the possibility of getting new control gates as part of the project became a distinct possibility. The gates need to be updated, but the WPA would never be able to afford it on their own. The WPA is comfortable with any of the designs proposed. There are many complex issues and they are content to leave this to the engineers and biologists. Nate is consulting with them on almost a weekly basis. However, he said there are two issues with respect to the design that need to be considered. The first is that the location of the ladder is in a highly public place, and they would like it to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. He doesn’t want to get calls that it is ugly. Secondly, they want the harvesting facility to be as good as it can be and as convenient for the lobster dealers as it can be. They want the town of Vassalboro to get top dollar for the alewife harvest. He reiterated that the WPA had an almost unanimous vote to endorse construction of the fish ladder at their annual meeting in 2005. Nate Gray from the Maine Department of Marine Resources then gave a presentation (including pictures) on the different alternatives for fish passage. He has been working on the project since 1997, when the pond was first stocked with alewives. He has worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on several different designs, and plans to work with Kleinshmidt on the final design. For over 200 years there have been no free-running alewives in Webber Pond due to the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River and the Webber Pond dam. In recent years alewives have been hand netted and placed into the pond. Roughly 81,000 have been netted this year and they are almost at full escapement. The first fish passage alternative is the Alaskan steep pass. The advantages of this option are that it is the lowest cost option because it is not a heavily constructed unit, it has the smallest footprint of any of the options, and it is the easiest to design, install, and maintain. Only certain types of fish can go up it because of the high water velocity. Carp can not pass, but possibly some pike could. However, there is no free passage. Every fish comes to the top and runs into a screen. An operator from DMR will be there to bail the fish and check each one before releasing them into the pond. This precludes or lessens the ability for invasive species getting in. The second option is the denil fish passage, which is common in the state of Maine. This includes a series of 10-12 wooden or metal baffles. Screens would be installed at the top to exclude exotic species. The advantages of this option are that it is very effective, has a lower velocity, and uses a little more water than the steep pass. The disadvantages are that the cost is much higher, and it would involve significant excavation for footings, concrete, etc. It also would involve higher maintenance. Every four years the baffles have to be replaced. Every 50-60 years the concrete would need to be replaced. Nate showed a picture in which one year DMR tried to use a blue plastic tarp to capture water coming off the spillway to try to aid alewives in getting to the pond, but this did not work. Another option is the nature type pool and weir. This is considered a nontechnical type of fish passage because it is not made of metal, concrete, or wood. It is made of natural materials on site. It involves artificial pools that would go into an exit flume where the fish would get sorted and bailed into the pond or harvested. This option would require a great deal of excavation. Some of these types are found on the eastern seaboard, mostly in Europe. This type also tends to be expensive and high maintenance. There is currently one at Damariscotta Lake. Nate showed a picture of a pool and shoot type passage like the one at Sebasticook Lake. This is similar to the denil fish passage type. These work very well, but are water hungry, are a concrete structure, and require extensive excavation. Nate explained that the reason we are concerned about excavation is because the area by the Webber Pond dam is a significant cultural resources site. Excavation here would be very expensive and take a lot of time because an extensive cultural resources review of the site would need to be done. Nate also explained about the current water control structure at the dam. This is a board style gate structure that includes a series of logs that slide into a slot. They are difficult to remove and install, and it takes a number of people to add or remove logs. Currently it is impossible to remove the bottom boards. A better gate system is needed for water control for both pond height and fish passage. A new gate design (butterfly, etc.) is being considered at the dam as part of the project. There are many potential designs. A question was asked if DMR controls the level of the gate, and Nate answered no. DMR does not have any say about when the drawdown occurs or the water levels. The question and comment session was done next. Dale once again explained the rules and asked everyone to identify themselves and explained that each person would have five minutes to ask a question or make a comment. The following questions/comments were discussed: Charlie Backenstose – What is the process for deciding which design will be used? Nate answered that it is the choice of the public. He further explained that if they decide to go with an expensive option, it will take longer to get it installed. Backenstose also had concerns about security and thought that was an important factor. Nate responded that the steep pass has distinct advantages in regards to that. The other options are very large (open pits), which is fine when it’s filled with water, but when it’s not, it can cause a hazard or be easy to vandalize. Mary Bussell – Also had concerns about safety and security, particularly for children at the site. Nate explained that there have already been some safety and security issues at the dam – a couple swimmers have gone through the gates and fallen through to the concrete below. The area is a popular swimming area. One of the ideas that they have looked at is armoring the top of the fish way with a grate structure and a “grizzly rack” on the upstream side to prevent someone from being sucked into the exit flume. This would also prevent debris from going down the fish passage. There have also been discussions about putting up a boom, which would be a cheap and effective way to let people know not to cross over a certain line. Mike Vashon (Vassalboro town manager) - He would like to rope off an area for swimming and put up a sign to designate where the swimming area is. He also asked how many steep pass type fish passages have been installed in the state and if that is the recommended option. Nate responded that there are currently steep passes at Pleasant Pond in Stetson and Plymouth Pond in Plymouth, and both are very effective. They have an extensive track record across the state. Vachon asked who would be responsible for maintaining the fish passage. Nate answered that it will be DMR that will be maintaining the fish passage. Vachon asked if the steep pass option is chosen, what will be the starting and ending dates? Nate answered that once the permits are in place, steep pass installation is fairly quick. Site modifications are minimal because it is a small footprint. The Plymouth Pond steep pass installation was three months. In comparison, the pool and chute type fish passage at Sebasticook Lake was close to 12-18 months to install. Tony Loiko – lives right next to the dam, and was wondering when construction of the fish passage happens, would it affect the bridge at all? Would all construction equipment stay on the Town’s side? Nate answered that all equipment would stay on the Town’s side, so equipment should not be passing over the bridge. Loiko asked what time of year would the project be done? Nate answered that it would be done at a time of low water late summer or early fall. Bill Browne – Was concerned about keeping invasive species out, and also wanted to know who pays for the cost of the project? Is the Town responsible for the cost of installation? Who pays to have the operator there? Nate explained that the Town would not be responsible for the cost of the project. DMR has requested Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program funds through USDA NRCS to aid in the installation of the fish passage. The cost to the Town of Vassalboro would be nothing. Bill Hamley – wanted clarification on how the process of harvesting would work. Nate said that through the course of the alewife run beginning in May and ending in mid June, fish will be released into the pond every day to achieve escapement. There are rules that dictate how harvesting can occur. The fishway has to be open a certain number of days and it also has to be closed a certain number of days. During the harvest period, the harvester will scoop up a number of fish and fill up totes, and then the fish go off to market. The fish are hand dipped. Everything gets looked at and counted when it is harvested. If something bad (like carp or pike) shows up, it does not get out alive. Hamley asked what control there is over the companies that do the harvesting? Nate answered that DMR will have a very strong hand in the netting, and it is considered very serious business. Mike Vashon – Are the harvesters licensed with the state? Nate responded yes, the commercial harvesters have to retain a license with the state, and that license can be pulled. Tony Loiko – When will the project happen? Nate said it is up to the public. We are looking for a yes or no on different options. Dale clarified that we are here to get the public input on that. Mike Pratt – Thought we should get a general consensus of what people want to do – he is in favor of the project. Dale said a vote could be taken once all questions were answered. Bill Hamley – Are there any “hidden costs?” For example, is the protective barrier (the boom) included in the project cost? Nate says yes, that all of that will be part of the project cost. Jim Johnson of NRCS mentioned that the design would include all those things. Sandra Lary of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service mentioned that they would be involved in pre and post installation monitoring. Nate pointed out that there has been a lot of cooperation to make this project happen. Jon Andrews (Togus Lake Association) – Is there going to be a written contract to describe the official agreements that are part of this process (who is responsible for the lake water levels, etc.)? Nate answered that that would be covered by a series of documents, including a fisheries plan. He would sit down with the Town to develop a fisheries plan. There is nothing “left blank.” Andrews asked if there will be a document in place before we proceed with construction? Dale Finseth explained that there would be a contract with the state and NRCS to describe who is responsible for what. Frank Richards said there is a memorandum of understanding between WPA and DMR. As the project becomes more developed, the MOU will be updated. It is a work in progress. Jim Johnson explained that NRCS will develop a plan because they are providing cost share. The plan gets ranked for funding. Part of the plan is the environmental review process, and further on is the environmental assessment. The public input goes into that plan. Part of the plan is the details of the structure and how it is to be built, but also the operation and maintenance. Barbara Williams - How many years has WPA been working on this? Frank answered that the restoration began in 1997 when alewives were first stocked; however, they didn’t begin discussing construction of a fish ladder and the options for that until the annual meeting in 2005. Liz Andrews - How long before the pond was stocked in 1997 did DMR and WPA start talking about whether or not the stocking should be done? Nate explained that a pond can’t be stocked without a permit from IF&W, so this all had to be done prior to stocking the pond in 1997. In 2002, they saw the first alewives in Sevenmile Stream after Edwards Dam was removed, and they started thinking about fish passage at Webber Pond. Bobby Van Riper (Regional fisheries manager with IF&W) – had a word of caution about invasive species. He said the WPA has only checked for them twice. The Edwards Dam has only been out since 1999, and the system is still in flux. Things are changing. When the town gets someone to harvest alewives, they should make sure that person is bonded and has a stake in the pond so they are unlikely to be careless with the invasive fish species they may come across. Since there were no more questions, a show of hands was done to determine how many people favored the installation of some type of fish way at the Webber Pond dam. There was one person that opposed it, but the majority favored it. Mike Vashon – Spoke up that he prefers the Alaskan steep pass option. The other options appear to be cost intensive and difficult to maintain. He asked if we were looking for a consensus on which type of fish passage to build? A show of hands was done to determine which of the fish passage options was preferred. No one raised their hands for either the pool & weir or denil fish passage options. The majority voted for the steep pass option. To close out the meeting, Jim Johnson mentioned that people could write their comments or questions on the paper that was handed out and send to NRCS by Friday, June 15, 2007. The meeting ended at 8:05 pm.
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