Sheepscot River project celebrates milestone with dedication ceremony

Collaborative effort completed in Coopers Mills to improve fire protection and enhance native fisheries
Posted:  Friday, November 9, 2018 - 8:00am

On Nov. 13, local residents along with federal and state project partners will gather in Coopers Mills, Whitefield, Maine, to celebrate the completion of the Coopers Mills Project along the Sheepscot River. The project included four components – three new fire hydrants, removal of the dam, improved public access, and preservation of the site’s mill history.

The project partners include the town of Whitefield, Atlantic Salmon Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Midcoast Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The work has been completed at no cost to the town of Whitefield.

“The Coopers Mills dam project was a success,” says Selectman Tony Marple, who chaired the citizen committee organized to review the community’s options, “due to the initiative of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and Midcoast Conservancy; both organizations planning and negotiating for months with the town’s hard-working dam committee. The project opens the river to sea-run fish, provides three fire hydrants, a new river overlook and a donation to the town for long term maintenance.”  

Town voters approved the project in 2016, after considering several options to address the deteriorating condition of the dam.  The leaks in the dam had rendered the fishway and fire hydrant inoperable during the summer months. 

 “I am particularly pleased with the outcome of the new hydrants”, said Andrew Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “They were the most complex part of the project but will provide a  year round source of water for fire protection. Our desire to meet the needs of the community while improving overall river health was the goal from the beginning.”

The Coopers Mills project is the first phase of a multi-year effort along the iconic 66-mile Sheepscot River to improve habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon, shad, alewives and several other sea-run fish species. The broader effort includes the modification of the Head Tide Dam in Alna, new fish passage at the Branch Pond Mill Dam in China, the upgrade of several stream crossings along the tributaries of the Sheepscot, and the restoration of in-stream habitat in the West Branch.

After the voters approved the project in 2016, ASF worked on the final design with an engineering team led by Interfluve, Inc., with assistance from Sewall Engineering and Kleinschmidt Associates. Local, state, and federal permits were secured for the July 1 construction start date. SumCo Ecological Contracting won a competitive bid to construct the job with assistance from Linkel Construction for the stone and wall work. The river overlook includes stones weighing up to 3,000 pounds from the old dam. A trail around the overlook can be used to view the restored mill foundation wall that had been failing. The landscaping will continue to take place through November and interpretive signage panels along with a kiosk will be erected in the spring of 2019.

A local site committee comprising Whitefield residents provided input into the historical preservation of the site and the interpretive signs. The total construction costs of the project totaled $567,000. This included the construction of three new dry fire hydrants, the removal of the dam, and enhancements to the town property including a river overlook, interpretive signage, trails, and the stabilization of the historic mill foundation walls. 

The dedication will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 11 a.m. to noon. The town of Whitefield and several project partners will offer brief remarks on the project. The town will also be presented with a check for future stewardship of the site. All are welcome to attend.

The dedication will happen rain or shine. The event will take place at the new interpretive area along the Sheepscot River, off of the Main Street Bridge and Basin Lane in Coopers Mills.  Parking is unavailable at the site, but limited parking will be available at the Coopers Mills Volunteer Fire Department and Main Street as needed.  Please contact Maranda Nemeth, Watershed Restoration Specialist, for any questions at maranda@midcoastconservancy.