Sappi Mill: Republicans have been there every step of the way

Senator Brad Farrin delivers this week’s Republican radio address

In a recent column by Patrick Carleton, president of USW Local 4-9 at the Sappi Somerset Mill in Skowhegan, he outlined the struggles the mill’s dam operator has had with state government in trying to rebuild its migratory fishway at the dam. The dam supplies intake water to the mill.

His Op-Ed, which appeared in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel earlier this week, clearly showed the regulatory hurdles many of our companies face, and the influence that outside special-interest groups have on the Mills administration.

Hello, I am Senator Brad Farrin of Somerset County, and I am pleased to bring you this week’s Republican Radio Address.

While we more than share his concern regarding the dam operator’s efforts to responsibly protect the environment and migratory fish in the Kennebec River basin, the author blamed Republicans along with the Mills administration for its regulatory woes. We unfortunately need to correct the record

The dam’s operator, Brookfield White Pine Hydro, filed for a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January 2020 to continue operating the 8.65-megawatt Shawmut hydroelectric dam and install a new upstream fish lift. In doing so, Brookfield said it would increase juvenile Atlantic salmon survival rates from 93.9 percent to 96 percent. By all accounts, that sounds great.

By August of 2020, however, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service filed to intervene, and other environmental groups also joined in the fray to protest the dam itself. Their goal was obvious – they wanted an impossible 99 percent fish survival rate that guaranteed nothing short of the dam’s removal.

And this is where it gets interesting. The Regulatory Commission actually disagreed with the Mills administration and said in July that the project would benefit juvenile salmon survival rates – basically, the National Marine Fisheries and Maine DMR didn’t make their case.

So, the federal government didn’t play ball but the Maine DEP decided to go it alone and said in August that they intended to deny Brookfield’s permit anyway.

So what’s really going on here? The Sappi mill is one of our remaining six major mills in the state and employs more than 750 workers directly with another 5,000 jobs that depend on it. Yet environmentalists in league with the Mills administration are obviously trying to have the dam removed without any regard for whether the Skowhegan mill survives.

And we Republicans saw this coming from a mile away.

In a March letter to the Maine DMR, my Republican colleague Sen. Scott Cyrway and I raised serious concerns about the agency’s rulemaking process. They wanted to recommend the removal of two dams in the state to hopefully sway the Regulatory Commission since the federal agency would have to give the state’s modified plan substantial weight.

I also introduced LR 2047 in April that would direct the DMR commissioner to stop this process and reverse any of the agency’s actions. Unfortunately, my bill was defeated by all Democrats on the Legislative Council with the exception of the Senate president in a 5-5 vote. Yes, they shot it down.

But we didn’t stop there. In August, our Republican leadership sent a joint letter to Governor Mills outlining the potential impact of her administration’s impossible 99 percent survival rate, a rate not required at any dam anywhere else in the country. State regulations like these would only chill any new investments in Maine.

Just last month, the Kennebec River Alliance in their November newsletter recognized my leadership in trying to protect the mill and the region’s workers and their families. While I appreciate their recognition, it’s what we should be doing as representatives of our citizens – we’re here to protect them and our democracy.

So while Mr. Carleton is rightfully concerned about how this ends and we appreciate the message he was trying to convey, he unfortunately had it backwards.

It wasn’t Republicans who have been absent this whole time – we’ve been there every step of the way and will continue to stand by Maine’s companies and our workers. Instead, it has been Democrats – with the exception of a few – and a Mills administration more concerned with special-interest environmental groups trying to remove the dam regardless of the damage to our economy.

If Mr. Carleton wants someone to blame, maybe he should start there.

I also want to talk about a project that is dear to my heart and one I’ve been working on since 2016.

After years of diligent work by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands along with several groups, I am happy to announce the purchase of the Madison Branch rail trail from PanAm Railways. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the trail is an abandoned Maine Central Railroad corridor that spans 32 miles across Kennebec and Somerset Counties.

Mainers from Oakland to Jackman will benefit by the miles of trails that will added to Maine’s ITS and ATV trail systems, and our local economies will be boosted as restaurants, gas stations and stores will see an increase in business.

I am thankful to have been a part of this process along with my colleagues Rep. Chad Grignon and Rep. Thomas Skolfield. We’ve been at this since 2016 and now with 32 miles of recreational trails added to our system, I look forward to the positive impact it will have on central Maine and Somerset County.

Again, I am Senator Brad Farrin of Somerset County. Have a great weekend.

Sen. Farrin is the Republican ranking member of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Transportation Committee.

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