Police & Fire

Dover-Foxcroft to look at hydropower capabilities of Mayo Mill Dam

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Earlier this month Dover-Foxcroft residents voted 558-411 to reject a referendum article concerning removal of the downtown Mayo Mill Dam on the Piscataquis River, meaning citizens were in favor of using tax money to fund studies, permitting, and repair costs for the structure. While the financial implications are difficult to fully pin down at the present time because of variables such as the cost of repairs and length of repayment, the town could be faced with an $8-$10 million project.

The next steps regarding the dam were discussed during a select board meeting on Monday, June 17 with the board deciding to definitively determine the hydropower possibilities at the facility via a consultant to be selected via a request for proposals

“We had an election on June 11 and people want to keep the dam,” Select Chair Tom Lizotte said. He said the Mayo Mill Dam — which the town acquired in 2007 — needs to be in compliance with all Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requirements. While Dover-Foxcroft will not be spending the money in the immediate future, Lizotte said information needs to be gathered to determine costs and how needed repairs would be funded such as through a bond.

“The short answer is one step at a time, so what is the next immediate step?,” Town Manager Jack Clukey said. He said FERC has jurisdiction over the dam because there are hydropower capabilities, but it has been non-operational for over a decade.

Clukey said it is a long process to have FERC relinquish oversight and this depends on whether there are hydropower capabilities or not, calling this a key question. “If we are going to pursue resumption of hydro we need to do that, if we are not going to pursue resumption of hydro or surrender then we need to pursue an exemption,” he said, with a plan due to FERC by June 30, 2025.

“That really has nothing to do with whether the dam stays or goes,” the town manager said. “If we are not going to be in the hydro business FERC will surrender jurisdiction and we will be under the jurisdiction of the state of Maine.”

Lizotte said the chances of restoring hydropower at the dam are remote due to a lack of economically viable options; the town has consulted with multiple engineers, turbine suppliers, and a private developer for years to try to identify a hydropower retrofit.

“What would it take to understand hydro in a way we can all agree whether hydro is a worthy pursuit or not?,” Clukey asked. “What process takes us to that point?”

Select Vice Chair Steve Grammont said the town lacks the expertise to make a full determination on the economic viability of hydropower capabilities at the Mayo Mill Dam, but a hired consultant could.

“That would go a long way really to see where we stand,” Clukey said.

Selectperson Joel Vail asked about the work done by the Arnold Development Group of Kansas City, MO which converted the former mill building into apartments and office space.

Clukey said Arnold Development Group looked at restoring hydropower and did have an application into FERC about a half decade ago. “While it was in the FERC review period that’s when Arnold Development Group notified me they wouldn’t pursue a hydro amendment,” he said.

The town manager then suggested sending RFPs out to a small list of consultants, and the responses would be reviewed by the select board to select a firm. 

He said June 30, 2025 may seem like a long way away. By then the town needs to make not only a decision on pursuing hydropower and a plan to carry this out, but also a plan for repairing the dam, making the structure safe, compliant with fish regulations, and more.

In other business, Clukey said the town’s application seeking $2 million in Congressionally Directed Spending for the rehabilitation of the Penquis Higher Education Center on Mayo Street has been recommended by both U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine to be included in the upcoming federal budget. The funding now needs to be approved by the appropriations committee, with a decision likely to be announced later in the year.

The project proposes a partnership between Foxcroft Academy and Eastern Maine Community College to offer vocational and technical training for grades 9-14 (both high school and college level programs). The 25 percent matching requirement to receive $1.5 million in federal funds would be provided by Foxcroft Academy.

Clukey said the building served as an elementary school during the 20th century and the site underwent a $1.5 million rehabilitation to become the Penquis Higher Education Center around the year 2000. “The town turned it over to Eastern Maine Community College to run,” he said, with the building also housing the Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative and Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (these organizations would remain in the building).

“Eastern Maine Community College no longer wants to own the building, they want to be a tenant,” he said. “Foxcroft Academy would ultimately own it, but we would own it to get this passed through.”

Lizotte thanked Clukey for all his efforts. “There’s nothing this area needs more than more access to education,” the select chair said.

Clukey said the town’s engineering consultant and officials from the Maine Department of Transportation made a site visit as part of the Villages Partnership Initiative planning project. Draft recommendations are expected to be available later this summer which will be the basis of MDOT funding applications to put the town’s project in the queue for funding consideration. 

“They are working on what is basically a preliminary design on what the improvements would look like,” the town manager said. He said about 80 percent of upgrades would be covered by federal funds with the other 20 percent coming from the municipality and MDOT.

The town manager said an application would be submitted this week to FEMA to take the next step in the process of securing construction funding for the Lincoln Street bridge. Funds were earmarked in the 2024-25 federal budget and now these need to be approved for use by FEMA. 

Those coming onto the western end of Lincoln Street from North Street via vehicle or on foot may not realize the road includes a bridge going over a small brook emptying into the nearby Piscataquis River. The bridge is in need of replacement, and the select board approved a preliminary design for rehabilitation from Wright Pierce Engineers last month.

The Lincoln Street bridge was built in 1960. Earlier in the year Collins, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced she helped secure $1,455,000 in Congressionally Directed Spending for the Lincoln Street bridge project in the Fiscal Year 2024 Homeland Security appropriations bill. 

The town had sought engineering proposals at the end of 2023 and in February the select board approved a $218,400 proposal from Wright Pierce Engineers for permitting design. At the 2023 annual town meeting Town Manager Jack Clukey said a replacement project would cost close to $2 million with the town having a $200,000 share. Wright Pierce Engineers would have its work done later in the year with construction to take place in 2025.

The select board also removed a dangerous building order for 72 Lincoln Street issued in of 2021, with work ongoing to renovate the structure 

“The work he is putting into it is moving it away from being a dangerous building,” Code Enforcement Officer Brian Gaudet said about the property owner.

Building Inspector Ken Salvucci concurred, writing in a letter to Gaudet in March that repairs are in progress and ongoing jacking and blocking have appeared to have stabilized the structure. “The building did not appear to be in a hazardous condition at this time,” Salvucci wrote.

“It’s been a long road to get here so I hope he will continue in the right direction,” Gaudet said.

Lizotte said typically if a town finds a building to not be dangerous then it does not micromanage the work so no update on the status would be expected.

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