New Brunswick

'Some areas are going to start to stink': Cottage owners fear dam's opening

Hundreds of property owners in New Brunswick and Maine now fear for the value of their summer homes after a proposal to permanently remove two of the gates from a dam at the base of East Grand Lake.

Woodland Pulp Mill proposes to open dam gates at Forest City permanently

The dam at Forest City straddles the New Brunswick and Maine border. Owner Woodland Pulp proposes to permanently remove the dam gates allowing water levels in the upper St Croix lakes to fall to pre 1840 levels. (CBC)

Hundreds of property owners in New Brunswick and Maine now fear for the value of their summer homes after a proposal to permanently remove two of the gates from a dam at the base of East Grand Lake.

The dam straddles the international border at Forest City on the upper St. Croix River.

In one form or another the dam has been in place since 1840, raising the water level of East Grand Lake, North Lake and a connecting stretch known as 'The Thoroughfare' by as much as six feet, or almost two metres.

'Absolutely devastating'

Removing the two gates would be "absolutely devastating" to many of the cottage owners says David Townsend, president of the Chiputneticook Lakes International Conservancy, a local association and advocacy group.

"Water's going to rush through that dam at 1,300 cubic feet per second," said Townsend.

"They're going to have enormous amounts of shoreline showing, on some areas kind of mudflats," he said. "In some areas around North Lake it's possible ... some areas are going to start to stink. Navigation is certainly going to be impacted."

Townsend's group is hoping the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] in the United States will hold public hearings before making a decision on the proposal.

We're not happy about this.- Scott Beal, Wood Pulp LLC

FERC has licensed the dam to Woodland Pulp LLC, of Baileyville, Me., to allow a water impoundment for the company's hydro power generation system further downriver.

In November, Woodland Pulp, which is owned by a Hong Kong-based holding company, applied to surrender the licence, remove the gates to the dam, and allow the water to drain to natural levels.

'It's a business decision'

"We're not happy about this, we've worked hard to avoid it," said Woodland Pulp's communications manager, Scott Beal. "It's a business decision."

East Grand Lake borders both New Brunswick and Maine. It's estimated removing the dam at Forest City would lower lake levels by six feet during summer months. (CBC)
Beal says a recent order prepared by FERC would force the company to fund "multiple" studies to comply with the terms of its licence for the dam.

The research would be on top of maintaining and operating the dam.

"There's a lot of work involved," said Beal. "We didn't know what the new order would look like, we weren't expecting everything that came at us."

Beal says it is less expensive for the company to buy the electricity than to comply with all the conditions of the license.

Staff at FERC are reviewing Woodland Pulp's application to surrender the license.

No decision has been made on whether the commission will opt for a public hearing.

Public wants input

Forest City, N.B., residents Sherrill and George Guimond are hoping there is an opportunity for as much public input as possible.

Their home is a couple of hundred metres from the dam.

This whole area will just become a creek.- Sherrill Guimond, Forest City, NB

They worry Patterson Cove, the body of water just above the structure, will disappear entirely if the gates are removed.

Orient, Maine resident Bill Walton says some of East Grand Lake's coves will have no water in them if the dam is removed. (CBC)
"If we lose the dam this whole area will just become a creek," said Sherrill Guimond. "You can't swim, you can't boat. So it's serious."

Further up the lake, on the opposite side, American Bill Walton lives year-round in his waterfront home and understands exactly what the Guimonds are saying.

Walton estimates the shoreline off his dock would move out as much as 40 feet, or about 12 metres.

"Everything you can see over there is Canada. Every house you see over there is going to have the same problem that I have if they open those gates and lower this lake," said Walton.

"Some of these coves are only three or four feet deep."