A New Chapter For The Penobscot River

Today, one of the nation’s most significant river restoration projects begins on the Penobscot River in Maine. The president of American Rivers, Bob Irvin, is at the event to kick off the removal of Great Works Dam. The remarks he is delivering at the event are shared below:

Watch recorded footage of the Great Works Dam removal:

It’s not every day that we get to witness a river coming back to life. But today is the beginning of a new chapter for the Penobscot River and all of the people and wildlife who depend on it.

The Great Works dam removal and Penobscot River restoration is the result of years of collaboration, and American Rivers is proud to have been a partner in this effort for more than a decade.

It is an honor to be here on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation today. Chief Francis, thank you for your gracious hospitality and thank you to the tribe for being such a terrific partner.

I’d also like to thank Senator Olympia Snowe, and Senator Susan Collins, Congressman Mike Michaud, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwaab, US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Director Jeff Trandahl, for their leadership. And a hearty thank you and congratulations to Laura Rose Day, Executive Director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, and to all of our partners in the Trust for their years of dedication and hard work.

Because of the threats from existing or proposed dams, American Rivers named the Penobscot one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers every year from 1989 to 1996. Now I know the day will soon come when we can declare the Penobscot River “most improved.”

Today, we are kicking off one of the biggest and most significant river restoration projects our country has ever seen. By removing two dams and installing fish passage at others, we will open access to 1,000 miles of habitat for Atlantic salmon and other native sea-run fish. The project will revive cultural traditions and boost recreation and economic opportunities.

It wasn’t very long ago that removing dams was considered a radical idea. But we have proved time after time that removing outdated, obsolete dams makes sense for our communities.  This past September I was privileged to stand on the banks of Washington’s Elwha River as the world’s biggest dam removal began. Across the US, more than 1100 dams have been removed over the past 100 years, including 24 in Maine. 

These dam removals have restored river health and water quality, revitalized fish and wildlife, improved public safety, and created new opportunities for recreation.

This effort on the Penobscot is proof that river restoration and economic benefits go hand in hand. Even with the removal of Great Works Dam and Veazie Dam, we will be able to maintain and possibly increase the amount of energy generated on the river thanks to local investments in hydropower production.  What’s more, the Penobscot restoration effort will create more than 180 jobs.

The lesson for other communities across the region and nation is clear: We don’t have to choose between healthy rivers and a healthy economy.  Instead, when we choose to restore our rivers to health, we are also restoring our economic health.

As we like to say at American Rivers, “Rivers connect us.” They connect us to each other, to nature, and to future generations. Rivers like the Penobscot are vital to our health. They give us drinking water, are home to fish and wildlife, and provide a wonderful source of recreation, beauty, and serenity. 

Think about your own connection to rivers, and what you witnessed here today – you’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you were here, at the beginning of the Penobscot River’s revival.

American Rivers is proud to have played a lead role in this historic restoration effort. Thank you again to NOAA and the Department of the Interior for their renewed and continuing commitment to the Penobscot project. I look forward to continuing to work together to ensure we have many more river restoration successes in the future.

As the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy once said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Let’s continue to dream big. As the Penobscot proves, when we work together, we can accomplish wonderful successes for our rivers, our communities, and future generations.