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FPL to build upstream fish passage at four Maine projects

FPL Energy Maine Hydro LLC has agreed to install upstream fish passage at four more of its hydroelectric projects on the Saco River in southern Maine.

FPL Energy, which already has built upstream passage at two other projects, also will provide measures for passing American eel at its projects in the basin.

The licensee's plans are part of a settlement agreement filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in March. FERC said it would accept comments and motions filed by May 4 on FPL Energy's 180-page application to amend its six licenses to reflect the settlement agreement.

The agreement addresses passage and fisheries management at 4-MW Bar Mills (No. 2194), 7.812-MW West Buxton (No. 2531), 7.2-MW Bonny Eagle (No. 2529), 10.9-MW Hiram (No. 2530), 6.65-MW Cataract (No. 2528), and 16.8-MW Skelton (No. 2527).

The settlement calls for upstream fish passage at Bar Mills, West Buxton, Bonny Eagle, and Hiram, sequentially, beginning in 2016. Permanent facilities would be provided as returns of anadromous species increase substantially. In the meantime, trap and haul of adults from Cataract and Skelton fish lifts would continue to provide passage and access to upstream reaches for target species.

The agreement builds upon an earlier accord, the 1994 Saco River Fish Passage Agreement, approved by FERC in 1998. The initial agreement settled licensing issues involving anadromous fish at projects on the mainstem of the Saco River. It called for parties to assess the need for upstream passage measures at the four projects every four years and to inform FERC of the results of the assessment, along with recommendations, if appropriate, for development of the next upstream passage facility.

The original agreement established time frames for developing upstream anadromous fish passage at Cataract and Skelton, the two projects farthest downstream on the Saco. Upstream fish passage for Cataract and Skelton subsequently was constructed and is operational. Further, that agreement established a schedule for providing downstream fish passage for the licensee's six Saco River projects. Downstream passage facilities are operational at five of the projects, and have been tested for passing Atlantic salmon smolts.

The 1994 agreement also provided a process for the licensee, fisheries agencies, and other parties to assess the need, design, and schedule for providing fish passage facilities at Bar Mills, West Buxton, Bonny Eagle, and Hiram, if appropriate.

Eel to benefit from 2007 settlement

Currently, there are no specific provisions for eel passage on the Saco. However, the 2007 settlement calls for eel passage at all of the licensee's projects on the river's mainstem. Contingent upon commission approval, upstream eel passage would be provided at each project in sequence, beginning in 2008 and ending in 2020. Permanent downstream eel passage measures would be provided at each project beginning 12 years after upstream passage is provided at the projects, allowing eels passing upstream to mature. The settlement also provides for interim downstream eel passage measures should they be needed prior to permanent measures being implemented.

Parties to the new settlement include: FPL Energy; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; NOAA Fisheries; Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission; Maine Department of Marine Resources; Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; Saco River Salmon Club; Atlantic Salmon Federation; Maine Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation; Saco River Hydro LLC, owner of the Swans Falls project; and New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

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