Veazie Dam breached!

Meagan Racey, one of our public affairs specialists, shares her experience at the Veazie Dam breaching and celebration. Credit: USFWS
Meagan Racey, one of our public affairs specialists, shares her experience at the Veazie Dam breaching and celebration. Credit: USFWS

Meagan Racey, one of our public affairs specialists, shares her experience at the Veazie Dam breaching and celebration. Credit: USFWS

They quietly seated themselves in the circle of chairs around the drum.

One of the Burnurwurbskek singers lifted up his voice. Their sticks hit the drum, and the traditional Penobscot Indian Nation music broke out.

The crowd, more than 300 strong, squeezed in closer. I leaned in, captivated by their song and the beating of the drum. Some turned their eyes to the skies and watched the bald eagles that joined us, soaring above the Penobscot River shoreline.

The ceremony to breach Veazie Dam had officially begun.

Across the river, two excavators prepared to dismantle Veazie, the river’s lowermost dam that has blocked the natural passage of fish for two centuries. By this fall, endangered Atlantic salmon and shortnose sturgeon, as well as nine other sea-run fish, will be able to swim unimpeded upstream to their spawning and juvenile growing habitat.

“The salmon that swims from Greenland a couple of thousand miles back to its natal river will actually be able to pass this spot,” said Laura Rose Day, executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

The 830-footlong Veazie Dam will be the second dam removed in the remarkable endeavor to restore Maine’s Penobscot River. The removal of Veazie and Great Works Dam in 2012, in addition to improved fish passage at four remaining dams and energy increases at six others, greatly improves access to nearly 1,000 miles of habitat, promising large-scale ecological, cultural, recreational and economic benefits throughout New England’s second largest watershed.

It took more than a decade of vision, hard work, and collaboration to get here. PPL Corporation, an international energy company, approached our agency and others to explore an innovative and comprehensive solution to a number of issues surrounding hydropower relicensing, fish passage and the health of the Penobscot. Since then, the Service has provided technical and professional expertise and about $10 million to restore a free-flowing river.

“We are pleased to provide support for such a monumental and far-reaching endeavor,” said Wendi Weber, the director for our Northeast Region. “The combined efforts of many partners have led to success on the Penobscot and have been hailed as a model for river restoration. Together, we have taken great strides to ensure that the river will provide enduring benefits for the people of Maine and the Penobscot Indian Nation.”

  Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director. Credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS  http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/9350442747/

Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director. Credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

In addition to Wendi, community members heard from representatives of the other federal, tribal, legislative and state partners, and recognized key conservation organizations that drove the effort – American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, all members of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

At the close of the press conference, I joined the excited wave of people trekking down close to the shoreline. Many of the project leaders grasped one another’s hands and lifted their arms in anticipation of the victorious moment.

The excavators dropped their arms into the buttress-style dam, sending pieces crumbling into the river. Freed water burst through. People cheered at the sight, watching as work continued for the next half hour or so.

The moment, tremendous for me, was a sliver of time in the river’s long history.

Joseph Dana of the Penobscot Indian Nation paddles a traditional birch-bark canoe past the breaching. Credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

Joseph Dana of the Penobscot Indian Nation paddles a traditional birch-bark canoe past the breaching. Credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

The bold and beautiful Penobscot has provided for many, many generations of people in Maine, and has sustained the Penobscot Indian Nation for more than 10,000 years.

As I stood on the rocks by the river and thought of its journey, a canoe came by.

Wait – there’s more! We’re sharing videos and posts all season from our staff and partners working on the Penobscot River.Check out this post on the event from Maine Audubon!

Joe Dana, a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, had placed a traditional birch-bark canoe into the river.

He paddled toward the breached dam, becoming possibly the first to touch the liberated waters.

3 Comments on “Veazie Dam breached!

  1. Pingback: Veazie Dam: There and gone… | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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