Committee continues work to determine future of Mayo Mill Dam

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Under the auspices of a steering committee, a partners team is working to consider the various possibilities and everything tying into the Mayo Mill Dam downtown on the Piscataquis River.  — such as an assessment of the physical condition of the structure and property, an inventory, and being in compliance with all regulations — to be included in a community-based feasibility study to help determine the long-term future of the dam. 

More than a decade and a half has passed since the Mayo Mill Dam has produced energy. In the years since the municipal-owned structure has remained in place but it is only deteriorating with the continual water flow.

Last month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sent a letter to the town of Dover-Foxcroft describing the results of an inspection. The letter says the inspection determined that there are dam safety deficiencies that do not require immediate remedial action, but the agency is asking the town to submit a plan to schedule and complete needed work on the site.

The dam was a topic of conversation by the select board during a Monday meeting, as Town Manager Jack Clukey said the dam redevelopment committee is on schedule to complete its work and make a recommendation on the site to the board.

Clukey responded to FERC with a letter stating the town plans to engage Gomez and Sullivan Engineers for an updated public safety plan and a dam safety surveillance monitoring plan and a dam safety monitoring report with the documents prepared by Dec. 31. 

“Pertaining to items 5 and 6 repair of structures, the town respectfully requests an extension until March 1, 2024 to submit a plan and schedule for completing this work,” Clukey wrote. “The reason for the extension request is that extra time is necessary for the town to determine the most feasible way to accomplish this. Specifically, the town will determine if it will be accomplished as a stand-alone maintenance project, or as part of the replacement or removal of the dam. As you are aware, the town has been engaged in a year-long process to determine whether it will rehabilitate, replace, or remove the dam. The process of determining the feasibility of these alternatives is scheduled to conclude by the end of this year and will facilitate developing a plan and schedule for addressing items 5 and 6. Thank you for your time and attention as we work through this process.”

“All we are asking is if we can get some through some decision-making benchmarks,” Clukey said, as he said FERC should respond to his request in a back-and-forth that is typical between municipalities and federal agencies.

“We are coming close to the end of the information gathering process, so we are working on some costs,” Select Chairperson and dam committee member Tom Lizotte said. He said this information should be ready for the board by November.

“The plan is when we get through studying this, the committee will make a recommendation to the board,” Lizotte said. “Once we make the decision, either repairing the dam or phasing out, there will be a lot of work to be done and it will be highly visible in the middle of town.”

He said FERC states there are no current safety issues “so people don’t have to worry about anything bad happening to that dam.”

Select Vice Chairperson Cindy Freeman Cyr said there will be another public forum on the dam before the end of the year, following up a session held in late June. She said so far the committee has received a great deal of feedback from the public.

In other business, several weeks after the start of classes town officials heard from both RSU 68 Superintendent Stacy Shorey and Foxcroft Academy Head of School Stacy Shorey for updates on the 2023-24 academic year.

Stacy Shorey said there are 639 students in pre-kindergarten to grade 8 at the SeDoMoCha School, 27 less than as of Oct. 1, 2022 but the same number as last June. She said 346 are in the elementary school and 293 attend the middle school, with 450 total being Dover-Foxcroft residents.

Shorey said this is the second year the superintendent’s office has been located at 572 Bangor Road, the former site of the Charlotte White Center which more recently was part of Penquis. She said the facility houses a collaborative program for 20 pre-K students from across the region

The district’s administrative team applied for and was awarded a $166,000 grant to expand the pre-kindergarten program. RSU 68 is partnering with SAD 4 of Guilford, the Milo-based SAD 41, and SAD 46 of the Dexter area as well as Child Development Services to provide four classrooms for this program.

Last year 20 pre-K students with unmet needs were found, and expanding pre-K in a collaborative effort will help serve the children across the region better. If there is room, the hope is to expand the program to include some 3-year-olds. 

Shorey said the building also houses CubHouse Daycare. As of Jan. 1, 2024 Hayes Law Office will be moved from its Lincoln Street location to 572 Bangor Road. “So the entire first floor of 572 is all in use,” the superintendent said.

She said rent helps cover utility bills, and solar panels will help further reduce electricity costs. 

Arnold Shorey said the grade 9-12 Foxcroft Academy has an 427-student enrollment, with 330 from the four RSU 68 communities, 70 boarding on campus, and 27 coming from other towns.

He said a dedication of the solar panels on the Jim Robinson Field House will be dedicated during a ceremony at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19. “At that time this will be the state’s largest roof project,” Shorey said, mentioning another under-construction project will surpass Foxcroft Academy’s when it is operational.

The head of school said the panels will produce a megawatt of power, providing electricity for the campus, RSU 68, and Piscataquis County Ice Arena.

“We are in the process of hiring a JV hockey coach so hockey is rising again at Foxcroft Academy,” Shorey said, thanking everyone who has been involved in the ice arena which opened its doors about four years ago.

The Ponies last played ice hockey in the 2006-07 season, when a varsity team played and practiced at the Alfond Arena in Orono.

The select board also heard from the Dover Rovers ATV Club about a new ATV trail adjacent to the Foxcroft Center Road. The trail enables riders to get from one side to the other, covering a portion of the road but not as much as much of the travelway as had been permitted for ATV use on a temporary basis.

In his report Clukey said the Dover-Foxcroft sidewalk plan is nearing completion and is expected to be finished before the end of October. “Hopefully we will see some kind of progress as we did on our local roads,” he said.

Clukey said town officials have started meeting with the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency to plan for the solar eclipse is set for around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8, 2024 when Dover-Foxcroft will likely have a lot of visitors — potentially in the thousands — due to its prime viewing location in eastern Maine. He said there will be meetings to coordinate ideas for business promotion starting this fall and will include the town, Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce, Center Theatre, and Thompson Free Library. Other groups who are interested in sharing ideas are welcome as plans are made to accommodate traffic, logistics, emergency response, the benefit for town businesses, etc.

Thompson Free Library Director Jon Knepp said there likely would be thousands of visitors regardless of what the town does to promote the eclipse, as Dover-Foxcroft is on the southern edge of where the event can be viewed in its totality for the approximate minute and a half. He said Greenville may have 20 more seconds, but those traveling may feel they have already driven far enough when they reach Dover-Foxcroft and won’t want to go another 45 minutes up to Moosehead Lake.

Clukey said April 8 is often mud season or there may even still be snow on the ground “so that makes it interesting.” For the annual Maine Whoopie Pie Festival in late June, visitors park at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds and take shuttle buses downtown, but that may not be an option in early spring.

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