Vote ‘Yes’ on June 11 for the Mayo Mill Dam removal

To the Editor;

An expression has been bandied about in recent years regarding the preferred practices of greedy corporations and property developers eager to “privatize profits and socialize losses”. Shareholders in such enterprises expect to reap all the benefits themselves, when their companies succeed, and want society at large to shoulder the burden of any losses they incur. 

In her May 31, 2024 letter to the Piscataquis Observer, Cheryl Piazza suggested a similar scheme when she advocated a “family bank” approach to dealing with the Mayo Mill Dam. In her scenario, all Dover-Foxcroft property owners would pitch in their own money, via increased taxes, to rebuild a dam in need of costly restoration work. Fewer than 30 riverfront property owners are asking everyone in a town of 4,400 people to subsidize millions of dollars to maintain their unchanged river view. Perhaps the signs around town that say “Save the Piscataquis!” should more realistically say, “Spend Millions! Keep 26 Property Owners Happy!”

The river will change if the dam is removed. It will revert back to its natural, free-running state which hasn’t been seen by anyone for two centuries. The river will not disappear or turn into one continuous mudflat. More wildflowers and marsh grasses will appear. Pedestrians walking across the East Main Street bridge will be able to gaze down on water cascading over beautiful, stratified rock ledges that are currently hidden from view except during times of extreme drought. Are there well-founded worries about what will happen to existing wildlife along the river if the dam is removed? No. Biologists who have been involved with removing non-functioning dams around the world say that biodiversity along rivers increases (particularly bird and fish populations) when unnatural impoundments of water are eliminated. 

Piazza also stated a few inaccurate comments in her letter. Jonathan Arnold, the pesident of Mayo Mill Holdings, does not own the power house connected to the dam. At one time he was interested in attracting investors to rebuild the dam and generate hydro power with it. Eventual paybacks would only accrue to the investors, however, not to mill tenants or the town at large. The engineering studies he commissioned found that the low “head” of the Mayo Mill Dam wasn’t worth the expensive economic investment needed to bring it up to existing codes. In dry months it would not generate any hydro power at all. Piazza is correct that The Nature Conservancy views hydro power as a viable, necessary energy source — in places where water flow and height are consistently high enough to justify the economic investment required.

If the Army Corps of Engineers has learned anything about flood mitigation, it is that retaining walls (and dams and levees) often make flood zones worse for people who live near them. It probably would not be legal for the mill owner to build a fortress-size retaining wall around the mill and its rear parking lot along the river because it would just divert flood waters onto more downtown streets and homes. Does Piazza suggest retaining walls for all the properties that were impacted by last December’s flood in Dover-Foxcroft, thereby foisting more rushing water onto other neighbors? If the dam is removed, there will be nine feet less of impounded water. Sudden heavy rains and rapid snow melts will fill up the river channel instead of overflowing onto streets and into basements. Respect everyone’s interests in town! Vote yes on June 11!

Heidi Erspamer


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