by Jonahan Carter

The removal of Edwards Dam is an important symbolic gesture as Maine, and the country as a whole, strives to implement river restoration after a century of ecological damage caused by rampant dam construction. However, symbolism and substance are very different. If this represents the beginnings of the "domino effect" which will perhaps even lead to the removal of such boondoggles as Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado, then the Edwards Dam removal deserves the spotlight of public and political accolades.

Augusta's Edwards Dam before removal process began.

While the platitudes of the politicians will tell us that this dam is being removed for the benefit of the Kennebec River and its inhabitants, the truth is something quite different. By following the money trail and the inside dealing, the hoopla becomes clouded by sell-outs, buy-outs, and trade-offs which set very dangerous precedents.

Bath Iron Works, for its 2.5 million contribution for the removal, has been given the right to fill in 15 acres of endangered Shortnose Sturgeon and other estuarine organism habitat along the lower Kennebec River. The hydroelectric owners located above the dam, for their 4.6 million dollar contribution, have bought the right to delay improvements, costing untold millions, in fish ladder construction and other fish passageway construction projects. The delayed cost for the hydro-owners is saving them millions more than the 4.6 million. Indeed, it was estimated that a properly constructed fish passageway on the Edwards Dam alone would have cost 9 million. It must be pointed out that in spite of the additional 17 miles of unobstructed river, the fish will still run into brick walls in Waterville and Fairfield. Yes, remove Edwards Dam, but it should never have been tied to giving environmental degradation rights somewhere else and to time delays and setbacks modernizing fish passageways upstream. Environmental gains minus environmental setbacks equals zero. This is total hypocrisy and sets potentially a precedent which will not serve river restoration well in the future.

In addition, the greenwashing being done by the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, around this removal is an outrageous disgrace. While Mr. Babbitt babbles about the benefit of river restoration through the removal of Edwards Dam, he has personally intervened to overturn the recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to list the Atlantic Salmon and the Canadian Lynx as endangered in Maine. He has forced the Forest Ecology Network and other organizations to bring a lawsuit to reverse his decision not to list. He is also leading the charge in Congress (s.1100) to gut the Endangered Species Act by undermining the use of protecting "critical habitat" in developing Habitat Conservation Plans. Habitat protection is the only way to save endangered and threatened species from extinction. Babbitt's duplicity is unacceptable and clearly a major threat to restoration all across this country.

If we, as a society, are committed to undoing the massive environmental degradation of past decades, we must set a course which promotes absolute restoration and not succumb to sell-outs, buy-outs, and trade-offs, presented as symbolic gestures of reclamation, which allow the forces of ecological decline to expand and continue. A zero sum game represents no improvement at all.

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