LePage talks state economy in Augusta, Mills/DEP respond

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 9:52 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) -Former Governor Paul LePage held a press conference in Augusta Monday afternoon on Maine’s economy.

During the conference he said the Mills Administration is planning to issue an order that would put jobs at the Sappi Mill at risk and isn’t being honest with Mainers about it.

LePage said over the last several months, as part of Brookfield’s Shawmut Dam relicensing process, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Department of Marine Resources have said they want the dam to be removed to allow for about five-percent more fish to pass through each year.

”Janet Mills has not been honest throughout this entire process. She has been saying one thing publicly that she supports the 750 jobs at Sappi, however, behind the backs of the Sappi employees. The action of her subordinates say the exact opposite. Her administration is an openly plotting the removal of the dam resulting in the subsequent closing of the Sappi Mill,” said LePage.

In a statement sent to TV5 today by David R. Madore, Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, he says, “On July 15th, 2022, the National Marine Fisheries Service requested a 90-day extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider additional information related to fish passage in the Kennebec River as part of their formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act. According to the extension request, the information emerged as a result of discussions between the National Marine Fisheries Service and Brookfield related to impacts on Atlantic salmon. The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are currently conducting evaluations of the environmental impacts of the Shawmut Hydroelectric Project, which are expected to affect fish passage measures.

DEP is required under the Clean Water Act to act on applications for water quality certifications within one year of their submission. In order to ensure any water quality certification by the State for the Shawmut hydroelectric project includes the full range of information from the Federal evaluation, including the most up-to-date science, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has drafted a denial, without prejudice, of Brookfield’s October 18, 2021 Water Quality Certification application. This action on Brookfield’s request for certification is not based on the technical merits of the request. It also does not forecast any potential future decision by DEP on Brookfield’s Water Quality Certification request.

A denial without prejudice would not change current operational requirements for the dam, nor would it require removal of the dam as asserted by some commenters. Brookfield would need to file a new WQC application with the Department to continue with the federal licensing process.

The Department looks forward to working with Brookfield as it continues to refine its relicensing proposal and as it works to submit an updated and complete request for certification to the Department.”

LePage said Monday if the dam is removed that it would be hurt operations at the mill which could then be disastrous to Maine taxpayers who have already been hit hard by high electricity costs.

“Sappi has been upfront throughout the process, that removing the Shawmut Dam drops the water levels in the Kennebec River approximately four to six feet, and will decrease the width of the river by several hundred feet. The dam removal will leave Sappi water withdrawal and wastewater discharge infrastructure out of the Kennebec and likely result in the closure of Sappi. Frankly, it will be tens of millions of dollars to attempt to retrofit that mill,” said LePage.

The Mills Campaign issued the following statement Monday rebutting Paul LePage’s false claims regarding Sappi:

“Unfortunately, Paul LePage chose to lie to Maine people today by wrongly saying that the State is requiring the removal of the Shawmut Dam, going so far as to employ scare tactics and to suggest that the Governor wants to close the mill. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Governor Mills grew up not far from Skowhegan. She understands how critical the Sappi Mill is to Skowhegan, the surrounding region, and the state of Maine. It provides good-paying jobs to Maine people and is an important tax base for local residents. As one of the last remaining pulp mills in the state, it is also an integral component of our forest economy supply chain, supporting landowners, loggers, and truckers, among others.

“As the Governor has said before, closure of this mill – and the resulting ripple effect across the industry, including job losses – would not be acceptable to her, and she will not allow it to happen. Her Administration’s commitment to the mill is clear and unwavering. Her Administration will protect the mill and its important contributions to Maine’s economy and will continue to stand by Sappi, as it has always done.”

LePage said at the conference about his administration, “My administration will focus on creating and retaining Maine jobs. My administration will focus on providing affordable electricity rates for all consumers in residential, commercial and industrial. The focus of the Mills’ Administration is very clear. The priorities of her administration’s are not in the best interest of the Maine people. Biden and Mills are working behind the scenes to close all our dams.”