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The fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills has been in operation for over two hundred years. Built in 1807 by the combined efforts of the towns of Newcastle and Nobleboro, the fish ladder was constructed to allow alewives to bypass the mills blocking the falls between Damariscotta Lake and Salt Bay. This winter we are working on the upper half of the lower third of the ladder. (Read more about the fish ladder below the slideshow...)
The fish ladder was originally built in dry laid stone on a seasonal overflow that was probably never a particularly efficient passageway for the fish as it followed the natural lay of the land, which is often steep and narrow. The fish ladder has undergone many repairs and renovations in its long history but none of them has been comprehensive or specifically designed for efficient fish passage.
Recognizing the fact that ad hoc repairs were simply an ongoing stop-gap solution, the Towns and the Nobleboro Historical Society, backed by a solid community-based initiative, embarked on an ambitious rebuilding project in 2007. During the first phase, a deteriorated section of wall forty feet long and twelve feet high was removed and rebuilt. In 2008, an aggressive effort to rebuild one hundred and fifty feet of the run at the top of the ladder was initiated. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Department of Marine Resources provided design services and technical support. Using new plans by Fish Ladder Engineer Curtis Orvis, the second phase of the project is being completed in time for the spring (2009) alewife run.
At present, the most deteriorated sections of the fish ladder have still to be addressed. The middle of the ladder, including more than 1,000 feet of stone walls, cannot easily be accessed by heavy machinery. Therefore, creative and innovative methods must be devised to remove the current crumbling pools and rebuild them to the new design specifications. This phase of the project, which will be implemented over the next three years, has an estimated price tag of $300,000 to $350,000.
One of the difficulties in working on the Ladder is that each phase must be completed between the end of one year’s alewife run and the beginning of the next. The ladder must be kept functional for both upstream passage of spawning alewives and the downstream passage of juveniles, so timely completion of each phase is critical. Ultimately, the success of the project will be measured by the number of fish passing into Damariscotta Lake to spawn. On average, the number of alewives passing into Damariscotta Lake to spawn is about 25% less than in the past, as determined by daily counts.
The design for renovations to the upper ladder created by Curtis Orvis, Fish Ladder Engineeer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service: