Dover-Foxcroft is embarking on a project to redevelop its downtown dam and hydro facility

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Dover-Foxcroft has partnered with two organizations to research the Mayo Mill dam and connected facilities to plan for its future and improve fish passage along the Piscataquis River.

The Dover-Foxcroft Select Board unanimously approved a partnership between the town,  the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Nature Conservancy in Maine during a meeting Monday.

The Mayo Mill dam is on the mainstem of the Piscataquis River in downtown Dover-Foxcroft. The 12-foot-high, 150-foot-long concrete structure creates a 30-acre impoundment, according to a proposal submitted by the organizations.

File photo courtesy of Piscataquis County EMA
MILL DAM — This file photo from July 2015 shows the Mayo Mill dam in downtown Dover-Foxcroft.

The dam and river carry deep meaning and history in Dover-Foxcroft, the largest community in Piscataquis County, which recently celebrated 100 years as a joint town. But the town faces challenges as its dam structure ages, including long-term operations and maintenance costs, fish migration, regulatory compliance and public safety.

As town officials prepare to make plans for downtown revitalization, they say it’s time to research the dam and, with residents weighing in, develop a plan that preserves it for years to come.

“It’s basically a period of studying feasibility and best alternatives, which would lead us to the final vision of what we do there,” Town Manager Jack Clukey said about the Mayo Mill dam and hydro facility.

The project, estimated to cost $328,332, will be funded by the Atlantic Salmon Federation and is expected to be completed in December 2023.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation and Nature Conservancy would lead a community visioning process to assess the dam and fish passageway, specifically opening migration of fish to the upper region of the Piscataquis River, Select Board member Thomas Lizotte said.

The mainstem Piscataquis River is a critical migratory corridor for native species of sea-run fish, including American shad, American eel, river herring and Atlantic salmon, according to the organizations. Despite a fishway at the dam, upstream and downstream fish passage remains an impediment to various species of fish, which reduces the number that can use the spawning habitat found upstream.

Maranda Nemeth of the Atlantic Salmon Federation and Eileen Bader Hall of the Nature Conservancy in Maine, who attended Monday’s meeting, wrote in their proposal that they understood the challenges Dover-Foxcroft faces with management of the dam and the need to comply with regulatory requirements.

“At the same time, we recognize the impressive revitalization of the mill building, and the recent designation of the downtown commercial national historic district, among other successes,” they said.

Nemeth and Bader Hall were referring to the town’s historic Mayo woolen mill buildings, which transformed into a mixed-use complex with apartments, office space, a boutique hotel and cafe in 2015.

Their proposal aims to collaboratively solve the infrastructure and regulatory challenges, while embracing and supplementing the gains made in revitalizing Dover-Foxcroft, they said.

Future redevelopment downtown and the dam project are inextricably linked, Lizotte said. 

“The reason downtown is where it is is because the falls on the Piscataquis River were there and that’s where the original dam was, and that’s where manufacturing in town started,” he said. “It’s all connected.”

As Piscataquis County’s former manager, Lizotte worked closely with the Atlantic Salmon Federation on a project to replace a culvert on Blackstone Brook in 2015 that was too small and blocked fish from traveling the brook that drained much of its watershed on Russell Mountain. The project resulted in a much-improved bridge that replaced the culvert, he said, and it was completed on time and on budget.

The dam project will involve convening residents to engage in conversations and share ideas, Vice Chairperson Cindy Freeman Cyr said.

“It’s a hand-in-hand process where the project — whatever it ends up being — will be guided by what citizens really want it to be,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”

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