Letters to the editor; To our government: Save the Milltown dam, before it’s too late

Editor,

Premier Blaine Higgs, Minister Mike Holland, and MLA Kathy Bockus,

NB Power is attempting to destroy the historic and green Milltown hydro-electric generating station. This facility crosses the St. Croix River to Calais, Maine, but it is owned by New Brunswick taxpayers.

With few public meetings, government has not heard the public outcry which will amplify once they start destroying the dam. NB Power hosted a poorly announced Zoom meeting in January, and although the website has been amended, the information session revealed decommissioning this facility would not improve fish passage nor create recreational boating opportunities. The head pond will disappear and create security issues between the U.S. and Canada. You will be able to walk across the river. NB Power has not said whether the falls will be fenced for safety. Conversely, the current concrete structure is solid and secure; the facility is structurally sound.

Originally constructed to use seven turbines on a rope pulley system, the dam currently uses three, so, NB Power claims it produces a minimal energy for the grid. Allocating funds from larger facilities would make Milltown viable. NB Power is the second largest polluter in the province, yet, it is trying to destroy one of its few clean energy options. Rather than increase local jobs, they will be lost. This plant has not failed in 140 years of service, unlike other facilities. There is no pollution spewed into the air, ground, or water. The river provides constant power at no cost or waste.

A company from Nova Scotia is ready to invest in the dam. Although the proposal sets aside funds for eventual decommissioning, NB Power has doubled down and included that in forecasting future costs to rates. They also doubled down by adding in the cost to replace Milltown’s energy.

In the March 31 presentation, NB Power admitted the chances of having to replace that energy in 50 years is low, yet it was added to the negative assessment. NB Power’s recommendation from the beginning was to decommission the dam. Perhaps NB Power’s management is so worried about the private sector looking after this operation properly, they are willing to sacrifice this environmental gem. Neglecting the Milltown dam shouldn’t make taxpayers victims. The NB Power website quote to decommission was $20 million, then increased to $36 million. NB Power stated the cost to refurbish was $14 million more than the original $20 million to decommission, meaning refurbishing is $34 million. Therefore, its own website states it would be $2 million less to refurbish than the $36 million cost to remove.

I recognize government budgets are difficult within their separate silos. However, budgets from cultural, tourism, environmental, Canada Border Services, and carbon tax combined with NB Power could save this asset.

One-hundred-and-forty-years-ago, residents, municipal authorities and politicians in Calais and St. Stephen cooperated to create a unique and viable energy opportunity. Don’t let their efforts be lost. Please stop NB Power from destroying this environmental treasure.

Daryl Spires,

Crocker Hill, N.B.