Why Water is Critical for Building our Community

Aug 4, 2014 10:00 AM ET

The Importance of the Presumpscot River

The waters of the Presumpscot River in Maine play a critical role for Sappi’s Westbrook Mill. In addition to providing process water for the operations, Sappi’s six hydroelectric stations provide renewable energy to the mill.  The communities bordering the Presumpscot value this river as much as Sappi does, and the company’s presence impacts the communities in a variety of ways.

By controlling water flow with the head gates of the Eel Weir Project, Sappi directly manage the level of Sebago Lake with the water released providing 75 percent of the  volume of water in Presumpscot River, both of which affect recreational activities such as boating and fishing. The lake level targets are mandated through a federal license which includes a plan aimed at addressing multiple stakeholder concerns such as adequate levels for boating and fishing, but not so high as to negatively impact beaches. Sappi also provides access to the river for activities such as tubing and fishing by offering parking, portage routes and infrastructure such as footbridges and stairways. Therefore, Sappi not only is trying to preserve the beauty of the river, but it’s also trying to ensure that community members can make the river a part of their lives through recreational activities.

The Journey towards Recreational Access to the River  

The five Sappi dams downstream of the Eel Weir Project were relicensed in 2003. These licenses include a plan for development of recreation features. Typically these features include facilities for portage around the dam, boat access to the impounded pond, fishing access to the dam bypass reach, and parking. An example of the facilities and the challenges encountered providing open access on and around the river is the development at Gambo Falls Hydroelectric facility located between the Towns of Gorham and Windham. At this site Sappi owned almost no shorefront property suitable for developing the required recreation features, while the municipalities of Gorham and Windham, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, and a private land owner all owned contiguous lands with varying levels of public access.  In 2009, Hydro Manager/Utilities Engineer Brad Goulet joined forces with Richard Curtis, board president for the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust (PRLT) to make improvements in river access at the Gambo site a reality. With the assistance of Curtis, Sappi and the PRLT were able to work together to overcome the legal and logistical hurdles stalling the project, including securing easements on a third-party owned land parcel adjacent to PRLT’s property.

In terms of recreational features, the project created a boat portage downstream from Gambo Pond, established fishing access to the bypass reach, and connected the river access facilities to the nature trails maintained by PRLT at the site of the 1817 vintage Oriental Powder Mill and Cumberland Oxford Canal.

Looking Forward

Sappi continues to expand open access and partnerships for stewardship, currently working with the Towns of Westbrook, Gorham and Windham. Sappi also works with local conservation organizations such as PRLT, Sebago to the Sea Trails, Windham Youth Soccer Association and Portland Trails.