Committee recommends replacing Dover-Foxcroft dam with park

DOVER-FOXCROFT — More than a decade and a half has passed since the Mayo Mill Dam on the Piscataquis River in downtown Dover-Foxcroft has produced energy. In the years since, the town-owned structure has remained in place but has been deteriorating under the continual water flow.

There were no easy answers on what to do with the site but under the auspices of a steering committee, a partners team began working more than a year ago to consider the various possibilities and everything tying into the dam — 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. 

The committee has concluded  that  removing the dam and connecting facilities and building a riverfront park is in the town’s best interests moving forward. Reducing flooding dangers, improving the area’s ecology, including fish passage, and the availability of funding for dam removal are among the main reasons for the committee’s conclusion.

The committee’s work was the topic of a public forum Jan. 25 at the Central Hall Commons, with the proposal scheduled to be brought to the Dover-Foxcroft Select Board at one of the February meetings (either Monday, Feb. 12 or Feb. 26). The select board will decide whether or not to move forward with removing the dam.

Town Manager Jack Clukey told the audience of over 100 that Dover-Foxcroft owns both the dam and adjacent hydro facility. “We’re responsible for all the compliance that comes along with the dam,” he said.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
MAYO MILL DAM — The Mayo Mill Dam on the Piscataquis River in downtown Dover-Foxcroft. A steering committee is recommending the removal of the structure and creating a riverfront park.

The structure is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Clukey said the agency has determined the Mayo Mill Dam has safety deficiencies. Atlantic salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2000 and the fish travel up and down the Piscataquis River. The river was deemed to be critical habitat in 2009, so the dam needs to be compliant in this area as well which would also be very costly.

The first dam at the site was built in 1920 with concrete and the current dam was constructed in 1980. The Mayo Mill Dam is 12 feet high and 150 feet in length with a 30-acre impoundment. The dam provided electricity for Moosehead Manufacturing, but the company shuttered in early 2007.

The mill property was conveyed to Dover-Foxcroft, and since then the building has been redeveloped into a multi-use facility with apartments, boutique hotel, cafe, and office space. The hope was to restore hydropower production to provide electricity to adjacent properties. 

From about 2010-21 there was a process to try to find a way to restart the dam. The town consulted with multiple engineers, turbine suppliers, and a private developer for years to identify a hydropower retrofit and determined that there are no economically viable options — in part due to the small size of the dam – as there would not be a payback for at least several decades.

Clukey said the reason a committee is looking at the dam site now stems from the potential millions of dollars in funding opportunities for revitalization as part of the larger downtown. Dover-Foxcroft is working on adjacent projects concerning vehicle movement and pedestrian access for sustainable long-term solutions.

“There’s also money available to mitigate the flood issues caused by the dam,” he said.

In 2022 the  town issued a request for proposals to explore new options for the site that will allow it to meet state and federal regulations. The only proposal submitted was from the Atlantic Salmon Federation and partners, The Nature Conservancy in Maine and Inter-Fluve, Inc.

In October of that year the select board signed a partnership agreement with the salmon federation to produce a study report that will evaluate feasible concept options for the town to consider. Funding for the report was provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries through the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act at no cost to Dover-Foxcroft.

In December 2022 the town submitted an amendment to FERC for withdrawal and revaluation. A 6-member steering committee was convened to oversee the partnership.

Chris Maas of the steering committee said the recommendation is dam removal, but “we didn’t start off thinking about this at all.” He said this was developed over the course of more than a dozen meetings and site visits around the state to see what other communities did with their dams.

Select Board Chairperson and steering committee member Tom Lizotte said there were around two dozen possibilities when the group convened with removal determined to be best. “You just can’t keep a dam in the river unless it’s serving some sort of public purpose,” he said.

Lizotte said FERC estimated $2-2.5 million to address the identified deficiencies and another $5 million to construct a new fishway.

Norton True of the steering committee described the Mayo Mill Dam as being a deterrent to ideal fish habitat upstream. He said the existing vertical passes allow less than 25 percent of fish to go through. “The law says we have got to pass 90-plus percent,” True said.

“I’m going to say it now, the powerhouse will never be able to be rehabilitated,” True said, mentioning the crumbing structure on the river. “When we talk about this project it’s not about improving that passage alone, it’s about doing something with what we own and doing something to make it look like what our forefathers saw when they came here.”

Maas said the committee came up with five broad options involving dam removal or different types of nature-like fishways or vertical slot fishways. He said 13 different evaluation criteria topics were used, and dam preservation did not rank highly under different scenarios.

This information is part of the feasibility study recommendation report which is available at along with other documents on the project.

“We knew early on whatever recommendation we brought forward, it has to be funded,” Clukey said. “Grant funding is critical for whatever we do,” the town manager added, saying the goal is to have 100 percent of costs be grant-funded.

The study lists cost estimates of various construction and landscape costs with these running as high as $20 million.

“That would be the actual next step, to continue working with our partners to find those grant opportunities,” Clukey said.

Lizotte said during a mid-November meeting the steering committee met and discussed two final options, dam removal or a 2 percent grade bank to bank Nature-Like Fishway which would be the most expensive possibility. “Why settle for a nature-like fish passageway when you can have nature itself,?” Lizotte said.

The report says that in the end returning the Piscataquis River to its natural, free-flowing state, and working to create a riverfront as part of downtown revitalization efforts, was seen as the best solution for the community. Steering committee members cited the need to reduce flooding dangers (this was a month prior to the Dec. 18 flood), improvement of fish passage, and the availability of both public and private funding for dam removal as the compelling reasons for recommending this action to the select board.

“We do not believe removing the dam will diminish the Piscatauqis River in any way,” he said.

Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Denise Buzzelli said at the start of the process she did not think she would favor having the Mayo Mill Dam be removed from its place a stone’s throw away from her office. She said once approval to move forward has been granted there will be ongoing and new partnerships and more public forums and workshops and social media outreach. 

“Ultimately our collective heart is that we accomplish something together that we can be pleased with and proud of,” Buzzelli said.

Maas said the dam project would take at least multiple years to complete, even before taking into account the fact the initiative could come up short in terms of grant funding. He said 2028 could be the quickest completion date but 2031 is more realistic.

Lizotte said the committee’s recommendation will be brought to the select board in February. The board will decide whether to move forward or not, and if so the town will craft an agreement with its partners on which direction to go.

He said the June referendum ballot will likely include a question on whether the town should accept grant funds or not for the dam removal project to see if residents favor the plan. “It’s the ethically correct thing to do to put a very important question like this to the town,” Lizotte said.

In 2018 Farmington put a dam question out to the community with a vote of about 2,000 to 1,200 approving the removal of a dam at what is now Walton’s Mill Park.

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