SECTIONS OF THE SMELT HILL dam on Presumpscot river in Maine, US, have been removed, allowing water upstream to pass freely into Casco Bay for the first time in 268 years.

Construction crews for A.C.T. Abatement Corp won the contract with a US$254,000 bid and began work on the dam in October 2002, installing erosion controls and lowering the water level. The Army Corps of Engineers is paying about two-thirds of the US$1M removal cost, including the dam’s purchase price, with the state of Maine and several federal agencies and private groups paying the remainder.

A dam has backed up water at the Smelt Hill site since 1734. The present Smelt Hill dam was built in 1890. The stone-filled timber-crib structure is 46m long, 9m wide and 4.5m high. It was Maine’s first hydroelectric power plant, generating electricity for the SD Warren paper mill in Westbrook and thousands of homes. The push to remove the dam picked up steam when devastating floods damaged it. Central Maine Power Co opted to sell the dam instead of repair it.

Smelt Hill dam’s removal will allow migratory fish such as alewives, herring, shad, Atlantic salmon and striped bass to make their way upriver. It also opens 11km of the lower Presumpscot and frees 259ha of watershed.