AUGUSTA — Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash has filed a bill to protect the Shawmut Dam and jobs at the nearby Sappi Mill that depend on the dam. The bill, “An Act to Clarify the Role of the Maine Legislature in Sustaining Good Paying Jobs in the Forest Products Industry and to Promote Healthy Rivers” is also supported by Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford.
“Today I filed legislation to protect the Shawmut Dam and defend the hard working men and women at the Sappi Mill,” said Pres. Jackson, a fifth-generation logger. “Let me be perfectly clear, from Madawaska to Skowhegan and Rumford to Baileyville, Legislative Democrats will always fight to protect jobs at the mills that power our forest products industry. As elected officials, we should do everything in our power to help, not hurt, mills like Sappi who hire Mainers into good-paying jobs.”
“I believe there is a path to ensuring safe fish passage in cases like this, while preserving good jobs in Maine’s mills. That path should include local representation in these discussions, which is why I support this bill,” said Speaker Fecteau.
The bill clarifies the Legislature’s role in rulemaking on water quality issues, to ensure a balance between healthy rivers and Maine’s heritage mill industry. It establishes reasonable standards for permit and operation of the dam, and establishes a task force to oversee proposed dam transfers and sales to ensure jobs and the health of Maine rivers are protected.
The future of the Shawmut Dam was called into question recently when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection denied a permit for Brookfield White Pine Hydro LLC to build a new fishway. Brookfield withdrew its initial proposal, but stated it has plans to file a new plan that will include developments that address DEP’s stated concerns. DEP stated its denial of the permit is based on a desire for 99 percent efficacy of the fishway, while the minimum efficacy of the proposal from Brookfield is 96 percent. An assessment from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimated the difference between 96 and 99 percent efficacy rates to be five fish per year.
Currently, DEP’s denial of the proposal could lead to the removal of the dam, endangering the nearby Sappi Mill in Skowhegan and the livelihoods of the more than 750 Mainers who work there. The Skowhegan mill is one of only six major paper mills still operating in Maine.
Democrats have a long history of standing up for Maine-based businesses and workers. Just this year, Legislative Democrats passed a variety of bills to protect everyday workers and Maine’s forest products industry, including:
- LD 188, “An Act Regarding the Transportation of Products in the Forest Products Industry,” which will fine large landowners and the offending motor carrier for failing to follow federal cabotage laws, protecting Maine wood haulers. This bill became law without the governor’s signature.
- LD 1713, “An Act To Increase Workforce Skills for the Revitalization of Maine’s Paper Industry through the Establishment of an Income Tax Credit for Paper Manufacturing Workforce Training,” which will provide a tax credit to companies, such as Twin Rivers in Madawaska, that maintain good-paying jobs and make significant capital investments to acquire, modernize or improve machinery before Jan. 1, 2024. This bill became law without the governor’s signature.
- LD 1411, “An Act To Establish the Maine Buy American and Build Maine Act,” which would have given preference to Maine-based businesses, workers and American manufacturing when the state awards procurement contracts. This bill was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills despite receiving bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.